Colorado’s avian population so far has been largely spared from an outbreak of deadly salmonella that has hit several western states, and people who feed birds can help to keep things that way through proper hygienic practices.
Salmonella is a bacteria that causes salmonellosis, a disease that has killed numerous birds in states including Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho over recent months. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said in a news release earlier this month that it has received an increased number of reports of sick and dead birds near feeders in northern Utah.
“We haven’t seen (salmonella) in Colorado, at least not large-scale like some other states have,” said Randy Hampton, a local spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
He said CPW is monitoring the situation and reminding people with bird feeders about the need to keep them clean.
Larry Collins, who owns a Wild Birds Unlimited store in Grand Junction and serves as treasurer on the board of the Grand Valley Audubon Society, said the store has gotten several inquiries about salmonella, but so far he hasn’t heard of any cases of it in Colorado.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it either won’t make it here or be will a pretty mild case of it,” he said.
He said Wild Birds Unlimited stores stay in touch with each other, and if the local store hears of cases elsewhere in the state it will try to share that with customers and put information on its website and Facebook page.
Hampton said salmonella outbreaks aren’t uncommon.
Salmonellosis is commonly spread when birds eat feed that is contaminated with infected bird feces, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said in its release.
“As such, bird feeders can be a source of disease transmission since birds often congregate at the feeders, particularly during the winter months,” Utah DWR said.
It said pine siskins, goldfinches and Cassin’s finches are birds most commonly affected by salmonellosis. Symptoms of salmonellosis can include ruffled feathers, rapid breathing, lethargy, weakness, neurological signs and diarrhea, Utah DWR said. The disease can result in coma and death, or birds may remain infected over time and become carriers of the disease.
Collins said some birds are symptomless carriers, just as occurs with COVID-19 in humans. He said one symptom of salmonellosis in birds can be swelling above their eyes.
Collins said the current outbreaks in some states may be associated with spring migrations of infected birds into those states. He said the disease is passed on as birds congregate and tends to be seasonal, dissipating once the weather warms and birds spread out and go after natural food sources.
Utah DWR has asked that people there who see sick or dead birds in their neighborhood take down feeders and bird baths for a month to encourage birds to disperse and slow the disease’s spread.
Short of that, here are some recommendations from Utah DWR and Collins for combating salmonella during bird feeding:
n use feeders that prevent the seeds from becoming wet and more prone to spoiling;
n avoid — for a couple of weeks, anyway, Collins said — platform/tray feeders because birds may poop in the seed;
n regularly clean up seeds and bird feces from beneath feeders — Collins said limiting how much seed you put out also may limit how much of it picky birds knock onto the ground as they decide which seeds they want to eat;
n use multiple, smaller, spread-out feeders to reduce congregating by birds;
n frequently clean feeders and soak feeders in a solution of 90% water and 10% bleach. Collins said wood feeders can require more work during cleaning, such as with a brush. Utah DWR recommends using easier-to-clean feeders made of nonporous materials like plastic, steel or glass.