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Pine siskin. Photo courtesy National Audubon Society
Scott Steepleton, Editor
3:27 pm PST February 8, 2021

Songbirds known to frequent Malibu are succumbing to a disease caused by salmonella bacteria, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

To stop the spread, residents are urged to remove bird feeders and bird baths.

According to wildlife officials, reports of sick and dead songbirds have been up since December, with the Central Coast, Bay Area and some Sierra Nevada communities hit especially hard.

Investigators evaluating birds from several locations determined the cause to be salmonellosis, according to a Feb. 8 announcement from CDFW.

“Pine siskins, a species of finch that winters in California, are the primary species affected by the outbreak.”

“Salmonellosis occurs periodically in pine siskins in some winters throughout their range,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Krysta Rogers, an avian disease specialist. “When large numbers of pine siskins congregate, the disease can spread rapidly causing high mortality. Most birds die within 24 hours of infection.”

Most of the reports in question have come from people with feeders where birds congregate.

Birds become infected after ingesting food or water or come into contact with feeders, perches and the like “contaminated with feces from an infected bird,” according to the state. “Sick birds often appear weak, have labored breathing, and may sit for prolonged periods with fluffed or ruffled feathers.”

While the pine siskin is especially susceptible, the disease has been reported in lesser goldfinches and American goldfinches.

Authorities say removing feeders and water features so that birds can feed on natural seeds “reduces contact between birds and helps slow spread” of the disease.

Frank DeMartino is president of the Conejo Valley Audubon Societyowns a Wild Birds Unlimited store in Ventura and hosts virtual birding classes that attract participants from across Southern California and beyond. He told Surfside News he tends to favor an individual response to this type of problem "rather than everyone taking down all of their feeders."

"There are feeders and food that siskins have no interest in," he said. "I think a lot of people don't bother with cleaning their feeders and those are the people who should probably take their feeders down for a while."

DeMartino offered the following tips:

  • "As for the cleaning, I would probably bump it up to once a week if you have siskins visiting. If you see sick ones, take the feeders down for a couple of days, clean them, then put them back up."
  • "If you have a number of sick or dead birds, take the feeders down, clean them, and leave them down for at least a week, maybe two."
  • "For cleaning, if you have EcoClean feeders, you can use warm water and soap. If you have standard feeders, you should use a mild 1:10 bleach solution to sanitize them. Take them apart if possible, soak them, scrub them thoroughly, let them dry and then put them back together."

Anyone who observes sick or dead birds is encouraged to submit a CDFW mortality report.

Wildlife officials recommend wearing disposable gloves to dispose of dead birds or when handling feeders or bird baths. And wash hands thoroughly afterwards.

If you find a sick bird, contact the California Wildlife Center at (818) 222-2658.