Laura Hagar Rush, WINDSOR TIMES
While humans struggle with COVID-19, a migratory bird faces a different epidemic
On Feb. 8, California Fish & Game took the unusual step of asking residents of Sonoma County and several other counties to take down their bird feeders and bring in their bird baths because of an outbreak of salmonellosis among an innocuous little brown bird called the pine siskin.
Veronica Bowers of Native Songbird Care & Conservation in Sebastopol said the outbreak actually began in fall, but that it — like another outbreak we could name — has grown over the winter.
Bowers said that Sonoma County has its own very small population of pine siskins, but that the ones that are getting ill are pine siskins that have migrated south in the thousands from the boreal forests of Canada.
They’re coming in larger numbers than usual this year, a phenomenon called an irruption, and that’s often accompanied, she said, by a salmonellosis outbreak.
The pine siskins aren’t bringing the disease. Rather they’re picking it up from local birds when they congregate at bird feeders or when they use improperly-cleaned bird baths.
“There are a lot of wild birds who are carriers of it, and they just remain asymptomatic, but they’re shedding it by pooping at bird feeders and bird baths,” Bowers said. “There’s probably some immunity among our population of songbirds that are frequenting bird feeders here in California, but for whatever reason that population of pine siskins that come down from further north are just highly susceptible to the salmonella bacteria.”
Typical signs of the illness are lethargy, puffy or fluffed up appearance, and occasionally swollen or irritated eyes. The disease is usually fatal. The last serious outbreak happened in 2014-2015, Bowers said.