Pine Siskin Salmonellosis Outbreak, Winter 2020-2021
Based on: News from our Nest, Veronica Bowers, Native Songbird Care & Conservation, December 2020


I am seeing birds that look sick and lethargic at my feeder. What should I do?

What you are probably seeing—and why
Sonoma County is currently experiencing a Salmonellosis outbreak in Pine Siskins. These small, heavily streaked, yellow-accented finches occur naturally in small, resident populations across Sonoma County and are ravenous little seedeaters most commonly seen visiting backyard feeders and baths during winter and early spring. This year, however, we are seeing an astronomical number of Pine Siskins migrating in—so chances are that what you are seeing are Pine Siskins showing symptoms of Salmonellosis.

Salmonellosis is a fatal bacterial infection, rapidly spread through feces-contaminated food and water. Most often, Salmonellosis epidemics originate where birds flock to feeders or baths. Visual symptoms include appearing lethargic, puffed/fluffed-up, and eyes that are partially closed. On occasion, eyes may appear swollen, red, or irritated.

Healthy Pine Siskin, looking sleek for winter migration.
(Picture from 
Cornell Lab of Ornithology)


Sick Pine Siskin looking puffed up and lethargic with sunken eyes. These are key signs you will see at a backyard feeder. If you approach a bird in this condition and it doesn’t fly away, please bring it to a wildlife facility and clean all feeders/baths immediately.”

Pine Siskins are especially susceptible to Salmonellosis and are also carriers of the disease, spreading it through local communities. Therefore, we often see outbreaks correlated with irruption years (a natural phenomenon driven by fluctuations of food sources across a species normal habitat causing that species to ‘irrupt’ or move to a different location with more adequate food sources). According to the Audubon Society, this year’s irruption (winter 2020-2021) is one of the largest in recorded history. In fact, siskins have been reported migrating at night – a very odd spectacle for diurnal species.

Unfortunately, with this mass influx of Pine Siskins, we are also seeing astronomical numbers of salmonellosis cases across the county. Over the past few weeks, Bird Rescue has received multiple calls and intakes of sick or dead Pine Siskins on a daily basis—some days, well over a dozen cases a day.

Our local, wild avian community is being hit hard by a Salmonellosis Outbreak and they need our help to survive.

If you have birdbaths or bird feeders in your yard, it is of the utmost importance you keep them clean, sanitary, and safe. Please help us keep Pine Siskins and other wild birds safe and healthy by following the Songbird-Safe Bird Feeding Guides below.

Songbird-Safe Bird Feeding Guidelines
Please consider the use of native vegetation to support, feed, and sustain local wildlife.

What to do if you find a sick bird
If you find a sick or dead bird in your yard, on your feeders, or on your birdbaths and are able to catch it, please contact your local wildlife rescue center ASAP.  Remove and thoroughly clean all feeders and bathes immediately, following the Songbird-Safe Cleaning Guidelines below.

Bird Feeder Cleaning Instructions:

  • Clean and disinfect all feeders at least once per week, all year-round.
    • Tip: Keep duplicates of each type of feeder so you can place a fresh one out while the other is being cleaned.
  • Safely discard any remaining food into your compost bin or trash.
    • Including any spilled seed or debris below your feeders. This will help to improve overall yard cleanliness, reduce risk of children or domestic animals contacting potentially contaminated seeds, and reduce the presence of rodents foraging of dropped seed.
  • Scrub feeders inside and out with warm, soap water, then thoroughly rinse.
  • Soak feeders in a warm bleach solution (1pt. bleach: 9pt. warm water) for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, place the bleach solution in a spray bottle and coat feeders inside and out. Let sit for 10-15.
  • Rinse thoroughly, then allow feeders to fully air dry before re-filling and re-hanging.

Bird Bath Cleaning Instructions:

  • All baths should be emptied and refilled with fresh water on a daily basis, year-round.

All baths should also be cleaned and disinfected once per week following the same procedures as cleaning bird feeders.

Keep Yourself Safe:

  • Wear gloves to protect your skin from direct contact with bleach or potential pathogens.
  • Wear a mask to prevent accidental ingestion, inhalation, splash back or aerosolized particles.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after contact with sick or dead birds and/or dirty feeders and baths

If you are seeing birds with any of the symptoms described above, leave your feeders and baths down for a minimum of 3-4 weeks. This allows the local birds to redistribute naturally into the environment and lowers the risk of congregation and spread of the disease. In light of the severity of the current Salmonellosis Outbreak, The Bird Rescue Center strongly recommends you remove all feeders and baths from your yard until late spring when the Pine Siskins will be migrating north again for the breeding season.


Risk to Humans and Domestic Animals
Salmonellosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transferred from animals to humans, and vice versa. In avian species, salmonellosis is oftentimes fatal; however, in mammalian species, such as ourselves and our 4-legged companions, Salmonellosis often presents as “food poisoning”. Common symptoms include acute abdominal pain, diarrhea (sometimes containing blood), vomiting, weight loss, or fever. Severity of symptoms can vary widely, but many humans/mammals infected with the disease will not get sick and those that do become symptomatic often require no medical treatment beyond rest and hydration.

If you find a sick bird, please do not hesitate to help it!
If you are diligent about washing your hands after you capture the animal and/or handle potentially contaminated equipment, there is a very small risk of infection. Additionally, the use of latex-style disposable gloves can be worn to eliminate direct contact.

That said, parents of young children and/or owners of free-roaming cats or outdoor dogs, please take note. Your loved ones are at risk of contracting Salmonellosis if they have free access to potentially infected equipment (i.e., feeders and baths) or dropped seeds. Furthermore, pets—primarily free-roaming cats—that hunt infected wild birds can contract the bacteria. This is one of many good reasons to always keep your cats indoors or contained in a catio. It is also a good incentive to follow our recommendation for fully removing your feeders and baths if you find a sick bird in your yard. Your wildlife, pets, and loved ones will all thank you for keeping their safety in mind!


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