STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — An outbreak of salmonella is killing finches across the western United States, including birds in the Lake Tahoe region, wildlife officials say.
The Tahoe Institute for Natural Science and Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care issued an alert this week for the public to be on the lookout for sick or dead finches associated with bird feeders.
Dead siskins have been found in recent weeks in backyards in the Carson Valley and Truckee, California.
The deaths are believed to be related to an outbreak of salmonellosis, a common and often fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria. The problem appears to be especially bad along coastal Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
Most of the affected birds are Pine Siskins, but Lesser Goldfinch and other finch species can fall victim to salmonellosis as well.
The bacteria are spread through droppings, especially where bird seed piles up beneath feeders or in-tray feeders where the birds can simply stand among the seeds.
Community members can help stop the spread of salmonellosis by discontinuing backyard bird feeding through February, to encourage these birds to disperse and forage naturally, officials said. Given the widespread and lethal impacts of the outbreak, tray feeders should not be used at this time, they said.
“If you continue to feed birds, please keep an eye out for signs of visibly sick or dying birds, and remove and thoroughly clean your feeders immediately, leaving them down for several weeks,” the wildlife groups said a press release.
“Pine Siskins often can be tame, but sick siskins will be exceedingly so, and appear lethargic, puffed up and often show sunken eyes.”
It is possible, although quite rare, for salmonella bacteria to transfer from birds to humans through direct contact with infected birds or droppings, the groups said. When handling dead birds or bird feeders, remember to wash hands thoroughly afterward.
Tube feeders and thistle socks may have reduced risk of transmission, but it is highly recommended that any feeders be cleaned regularly: any time the feeder is refilled, but at least once a week.
Effective feeder cleaning involves soaking feeders in a 10% bleach solution, scrubbing, rinsing, and allowing them to dry. Many bird lovers elect to maintain duplicate feeders, so that they can deploy a fresh feeder while the other is being cleaned, they said.
Anyone who observes dead or visibly sick finches should contact the LTWC at 530-577-2273 or the TINS at 775-298-0060.