Migratory birds could bring disease with them

bird feeder hanging in tree during winter

photo of a bird feederSOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Backyard bird watchers need to be extra vigilant this year in maintaining their feeders, according to ornithologist Richard Bailey of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Section.

“We’ve received widespread reports of large flocks of pine siskins, a North American migratory bird in the finch family, so we could be in for an irruption of this highly nomadic species this winter,” said Bailey.

An irruption is an unusually high migration of a species due to various factors.

Triggered disease

“Last time this happened there were bird kills reported throughout the state from salmonellosis,” Bailey said. “This negativeimpact may be avoided if bird enthusiasts will spend a few minutes each week cleaning their feeders.”

Regularly cleaning feeders greatly reduces the risk of disease transmission as birds and other animals move from place to place seeking food.

Clean your feeders

Feeders should be cleaned every two weeks and rinsed with a 10 percent bleach solution and thoroughly dried before refilling, Bailey advises.

Clean half the feeders one week, and half the next so that some feeders are always operating. Hulls should be raked up or cleared with a wet-dry vacuum and disposed of regularly.

This is particularly important with feeders containing thistle seed, as this is the food that pine siskins and their close relative, the American goldfinch, strongly prefer, Bailey said.


Birds with salmonellosis can shiver, appear lethargic and unsteady, and often perch in one place for an extended period. If diseased or dead birds are seen at your feeding station, stop feeding immediately.

Dispose of the seed in the feeders and clean them. Wait a few days to a week before resuming feeding. The birds will survive fine without you for a few days.

Dead birds at your feeder should be reported to WVDNR staff by calling 304-637-0245.

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