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A Native Bird Is Dying. Why Bird Feeders Are To Blame.

Amy Red Feather, wildlife technician
A Pine Siskin believed to be suffering from salmonellosis receives care at Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz.

Local wildlife rescue centers are asking community members to temporarily take down their bird seed feeders and bird baths. These bird magnets are spreading a deadly disease among a native songbird called Pine Siskins.

About two dozen Pine Siskins have come through the doors of the Wildlife Center at the SPCA for Monterey County since November. Yet the number of calls about sick Pine Siskins far exceeds that number. 

“It’s been a really rough season for them,” Ciera Duits-Cavanaugh said.

Duits-Cavanaugh manages the Wildfire Center at the SPCA. The hospital and rehab facility cares for all kinds of wild animals, from squirrels to owls. 

“If they [Pine Siskins] make it to our center, they don’t often live beyond an hour after getting here or the next morning,” she said. 

These small brown birds with yellow wings are suffering from a salmonellosis outbreak that has been recorded across California, Oregon and Washington. The bacteria salmonella is deadly to Pine Siskins. And that bacteria is being transmitted at bird feeders and bird baths, where Pine Siskins gather. Salmonella is spread through droppings or saliva.  

“So if a bird that's infected goes to pick up a seed but doesn't eat it and another bird comes and eats it, it can then get salmonella,” said Duits-Cavanaugh.


But community members can make a difference by removing their feeders and baths through April, when Pine Siskins leave the area. 

“Better than cleaning your bird feeder every day or even hourly, it would be better for these birds if they didn't have a place to congregate, to get easy access to food and spread salmonella, and have them go out and forage more naturally,” she said. 

This winter, there’s been a mass-migration of Pine Siskins to our area due to seed shortages in wintering areas in Canada. It’s called an “irruption year.”  In Santa Cruz County, Native Animal Rescue says in their 40-year history, it’s been the worst season for salmonella among these birds. Over 90 of these songbirds have come through their doors since the beginning of the year. 

Sick Pine Siskins look sleepy and their feathers may be fluffed out. While Pine Siskins are very susceptible to salmonella, Lesser Goldfinch and other finch species are also susceptible and, in rare cases, the disease can spread to outdoor cats. 

If you see a Pine Siskin that doesn’t look well, call your local wildlife rescue center. 

SPCA for Monterey County: 831-264-5427

Native Animal Rescue, Santa Cruz County: 831-462-0726

Erika joined KAZU in 2016. Her roots in radio began at an early age working for the independent community radio station in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2012, Erika spent four years working as a television reporter. She’s very happy to be back in public radio and loves living in the Monterey Bay Area.