Large numbers of a type of finch currently migrating through the region has been coming down with salmonella which is fatal to the species.
Pine siskins have been found dead at backyard feeders and local green spaces, according to various people online.
The bird is particularly vulnerable to salmonella, explained Richard Dunn, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited stores in Langley.
When their food source runs low up north in winter feeding grounds, they make their way to this region.
“They come down here in really dense flocks and they go to natural source foods as well as feeders,” he said.
That crowding together helps the salmonella bacteria spread.
He said the birds will exhibit certain behaviours when sick and die within a couple of days. The birds will be lethargic and look puffed up as their throats swell from the bacteria.
The mass migration is called an irruption and happens approximately every five years. The abnormally large numbers contribute to crowding and the spread.
Dunn said the store often gets people asking about the birds when they see dead ones.
Pine siskins resemble sparrows but are members of the finch family, according to the Audubon Society, the organization that collects the data from the annual bird counts. Their numbers in Canada and much of North America are abundant, but their local numbers vary quite a bit year to year.
Their typical habitat includes conifers, mixed woods, alders, weedy areas. They breed mostly in coniferous and mixed woods, often around edges or clearings; sometimes in deciduous woods, isolated conifer groves. In migration and winter the birds can be seen in many kinds of semi-open areas, woodland edges, and weedy fields.
To help the birds, people are advised to wash their bird feeders monthly, no matter what material they are made from, clean up food on the ground under the feeders, and have more than one feeder to reduce how many birds try to use the same feeder.
The feeders should be washed with a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water to kill the bacteria, according to the Audubon Society.
“The best thing to do is keep your feeders nice and clean, and feed good quality food,” Dunn said.
People can put trays under their feeders to catch dropped seeds and shells but must keep them scrupulously clean to help reduce the spread of the bacteria.
Dunn added that people can remove their feeders as well until the birds have migrated through the region. That may help reduce crowding but it may also mean more crowding at other bird feeders and will affect other bird species that rely on the feeder.
When the salmonella outbreaks occur, they are usually around this time of year.
“It’s hard to say how long it would last,” he said.
As well, if people decide to dispose of a dead bird, he advised being careful and washing carefully immediately after.
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