Redpolls get salmonellosis at feeders

ALBANY – The state Department of Environmental Conservation has confirmed that salmonellosis, an infection with the bacteria salmonella, has been the cause of death in common redpoll birds throughout the state during the last few months.

Salmonellosis is among the most common diseases associated with bird feeders. The organism can be spread from bird to bird through direct contact, or through ingestion of food or water contaminated with feces from an infected bird.

“Numbers of dead redpolls have been observed at birdfeeders throughout New York,” DEC Assistant Commissioner for Natural Resources Kathleen Moser said in a press release. “Redpolls are especially susceptible to salmonellosis during late winter months. This winter, we’ve seen particularly large numbers of redpolls in New York that moved south from Canada during cold winter temperatures. This mortality incident will abate once the remaining redpolls migrate north with the warmer weather.”

Common redpolls are small songbirds that are members of the finch family. They travel in flocks and are occasional winter visitors in New York. This winter the state experienced a large influx of redpolls, and they have been common visitors to bird feeders.

During the last few months, numerous homeowners reported dead or dying redpolls at bird feeders. DEC wildlife biologists collected specimens in the Western New York area and submitted the specimens to DEC’s Wildlife Health Unit for necropsy. Analysis indicated that lesions and culture on the affected specimens were consistent with salmonellosis. Since then, reports of salmonellosis have been documented in numerous locations around the state.

Common redpolls and pine siskins are particularly sensitive to salmonella infection; however, it can also affect other feeder birds.

Salmonellosis can spread among birds through contact with the feces of infected birds. Bird feeders and the seed on the ground around them can easily become contaminated with feces which results in the spread of the pathogen. Sick birds can be identified by their lack of activity and reluctance to fly.

People can help to curtail the spread of salmonellosis in redpolls by removing, emptying and disinfecting feeders with a 10-percent bleach solution. Seed on the ground beneath feeders can be cleaned up and discarded.

Salmonellosis is a pathogen that can affect other species (including humans and pets).

Dead birds should only be handled with gloves, then double-bagged and discarded in the garbage. If a sick or dead bird is found at home bird feeders, it should be reported to the local DEC office. Pets should be kept away from feeder areas where sick or dead birds have been observed.