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Dirty feeders can make birds sick

  • We don't eat off dirty dishes, and neither should birds.


    We don't eat off dirty dishes, and neither should birds.

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By Sharon Wootton
Herald Columnist
  • We don't eat off dirty dishes, and neither should birds.


    We don't eat off dirty dishes, and neither should birds.

Nothing brings home the fragility of avian death as much as holding an incredibly light bird without its life force.
All birds die, but it's easier to identify with feeder birds because they are so visible. Unfortunately, while birds are on guard for predators, they have no mechanism to distinguish between good seed and diseased seed.
Readers have reported dead pine siskins in north Everett yards. It's impossible to tell the cause without an autopsy, but the most likely cause is DBF, or Death by Feeder.
DBF is usually traced to salmonellosis, caused by a bacteria of the genus salmonella. Siskins and goldfinches are particularly susceptible.
The highly contagious disease is mainly transmitted from bird to bird through fecal contamination of food and water, and can spread among large numbers of birds that flock to feeders.
Some years there are large-scale die-offs, usually of songbirds, but this isn't one of those years.
Pat Leonard is a spokeswoman for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
"We go by the Great Backyard Bird Count (in February) and we would have seen it there," Leonard said.
Even dead birds on a micro scale can be distressing. Birds with salmonellosis can appear lethargic and fluffed up, remain in place when you approach, and even have fecal matter on them.
Then again, some birds may be carriers but with no visible symptoms.
The single act that will prevent salmonellosis (or lessen its impact) is to keep feeders clean, very clean. We don't eat off dirty dishes, and neither should birds.
I can't give a magic number for how often to be effective, but weekly would not be too often, especially in the rainy season. Mix 1 1/2 cups of bleach in a gallon of water and scrub the feeders and birdbaths to kill off bacteria and remove mold, droppings and old seeds.
The feeders should be dry before refilling.
Then remove old seed and bird droppings under the feeders. Consider bringing in your feeder(s) for a couple of weeks to dissipate the flocks. Retire your platform feeder because bird poop falls directly on the seed. Plastic and metal feeders are easier to keep clean than wood.
It's important to clean your hands with hot water and soap after cleaning your feeders.
If we do our part, we won't kill the birds that give us so much.
Biker shorts. No, not those shorts. Cascade Bicycle Club ( and Northwest Film Forum ( presents the Bicycle Film Shorts Festival at 7 p.m. March 30 at REI, 222 Yale Ave. N., Seattle.
The six films include the "One Got Fat," "Parasol," "Manquer," "Hard Court," "You and Your Bicycle" and "Jitsensha."
The latter is the most intriguing, about a young man struggling to find meaning in his life, leaving his job (humiliated), and finding that pieces of his beloved bike disappearing one at a time. When only a bell is left, the thief sends the addresses of each missing piece. The journey of seeking out each piece and reassembling the bike, parallels the process of "reassembling" himself and finding peace.
Tickets are $9, available at
Spotting wolves. If you see or hear evidence of wolves anywhere in the state, the Department of Fish and Wildlife wants to hear from you. Just file a report at the department's website,
The state's wolf population is growing and documentation of wolf activity will help DFW monitor the population in eastern Washington and the North Cascades. There are at least 27 wolves in five wolf packs.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or
Story tags » MoviesBikingBird-watching

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