Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pine Siskins, Salmonella, and Suet Recall

Bird watchers in this area reported that Pine Siskins as well as a few finches were dying a couple of weeks ago. Several people reported that they found 4 or 5 dead pine siskins in their yard or under their feeders. One person said that he saw a pine sisken that was just sitting on the ground, all fluffed out, before it died.

One bird watcher researched online and reported that the cause was probably salmonella because the symptoms match. Pine siskins are especially susceptible because they are small, tend to feed a lot on the ground, and in large numbers.

The cause of the salmonella could be either suet cakes containing contaminated peanuts or from contaminated feeders or perhaps the ground below.

Recall of Suet Cakes

Scott is recalling some suet cakes that contain peanuts obtained from the Peanut Corporation, the source of the recent human salmonella outbreak. Most of these cakes are under the Morning Song or Royal Wing brand name. The pdf file link has images of the recalled items. I think I've seen them at Target.

Care of Feeders

Dr. Ellen Reynolds wrote about this problem and recommended increased attention to bird feeder maintenance:
"You can help prevent a build-up of potentially lethal bacteria at your feeding stations through weekly cleaning and routine disinfection of bird tables, feeders and drinkers. The areas beneath the feeders can also quickly become contaminated and should be kept as clean as possible, with any uneaten food removed on a routine basis."
In her post, you will find photos of sick pine siskins and much more detailed information on taking care of wild birds in the wintertime. She also has some good images of recommended bird feeders (Thanks to Clyde, local naturalist for the tip).

At Our Feeders

I have only noticed one dead pine siskin and I suspect it flew into a window. My dog was carrying it around the yard (that pesky Kookie). I will observe the birds to see if they exhibit any of those symptoms but so far, so good.

This afternoon, I raked and disposed of the sunflower seed hulls on the ground as Dr. Reynolds recommends. I do this more often the rest of the year but the critical time for this type of maintenance is winter. I try to clean the feeders once a week.


  1. Howdee...
    Sad about the siskins dying. This year I made my own suet...luckily with nut butter that was not is so horrible that products allowed to be sold.

    Good Idea to clean up the hulls...I didnt realize that those were a problem..

  2. dAwN--I buy my suet from a local feed store and checked to make sure it didn't have peanuts in it. And, I made my own cakes from "natural" peanut butter that I had eaten before (I guess I'm the human tester!).

    I cleaned up the hulls before because of the aesthetics. But, birds defecate in the hulls while on the ground and can spread disease that way.

    Yeah, that company was based in Lynchburg, Virginia sorry to say. It's bankrupt so I hope that's a lesson to other companies anyway.

  3. Oh how horrible! I need to clean my feeders more often...I admit to being quite lazy lately. Thanks for the goo info!

  4. letspaintnature--Yes, this reminded me about being diligent about cleaning. Our birds empty the feeders so fast that I think the insides are ok and the outside is pretty easy to wipe clean. So, I am trying to clean the outsides every other day.

  5. Thanks for the wake-up call, Joan. I found my first dead Pine Siskin yesterday near a rainspout. I think it was a window strike - but I'll pay more attention to them. The number of Siskins have dwindled and I haven't seen anything else suspicious. I haven't raked beneath my feeders since November and haven't cleaned my feeders in three weeks. It's pretty thick out there... I'll get cracking!

  6. We apparently have a problem here in our county in western NC. Our local birding expert wrote a newspaper article sharing the information. Thanks for posting this important information.

  7. This is great information, and I admit that I do not clean my feeders often enough :(

  8. Mary--I found another ailing pine siskin yesterday. I took a couple of feeders down, hoping to cut down on the number of birds. Maybe that will help.

  9. NCmountainwoman--sorry to hear it's a problem in NC too. I wonder if anyone has definitely determined that it's salmonella?

  10. Nature Nut--I don't clean mine often enough either.

  11. I have just had the Wildlife Health Lab in Caldwell, Idaho call with the results of the autopsy on 8 dead pine siskins I froze and UPS'd to them Friday and they definately died of salmonella. I have been so freaked out since they began dying off last week. Today we are power washing the back porch and the ground and trees trying to get all the poop up. I have raked up and sent away many huge bags of old seed. Then I ju8st saw something on the internet saying it could have been from suet cakes that I bought from Duncraft and I broke them up last week and put them out for the birds since they didn't like them in the hanging cages. I have reported this to the government officials who follow these outbreaks and they are getting lots of calls from Utah, California and Washington in the last week and feel this is being spread bird to bird now. They want me to remove all the feeders and try to get the birds to disperse. This is so difficult to see the birds in the trees calling to me. I have been so careful to feed them every day and clean their heated birdbathes twice a day. Pray my chickadees and redwinged black birds and duck couple who come by don't get sick. Apparently my dogs and I are at risk as well. Very scary stuff.

  12. Jeramie--thanks for the information. I didn't realize this has spread across the country.

    Most of our pine siskins have left. I had most of our feeders down which helped I think. You remind me that I need to clean up on the ground again.

    The Backyard Bird Survey reported a huge increase in pine siskins across the county so at least their population isn't declining because of the outbreak.

  13. I live in Northern Mich and have been finding the pine siskins dead in my yard as well.. also the sick infected ones seem to be very tame, my husband and I could go right to the bird feeder and pick them right up like they were our pets.. however they didnt look puffed up or sick at all..after finding at least 3 of them dead in our yard and being able to catch many of them I called the DNR in my area and they informed me of the salmonella that they are carrying.. now I have a question for anyone out there.. how long should I take the bird feeders down for before I can put them back up????

  14. Birdy Girl--I would keep the feeders down for some time, until you don't see any pine siskins anymore. They should migrate up to Canada soon.

    One thing about my experience is that once I put my feeders back up, I saw only a couple of pine siskins and they were ok. I kept cleaning up the sunflower hulls too on the ground as well as cleaning the feeders. No other birds, finches etc., were affected.

    I have received emails all across the country about the salmonella problem. It appears to mostly affect pine siskins.