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Backyard birds: Clean feeders keep birds healthy (04/12/2006)
It's spring, a time when birds are moving from wintering areas to summer nesting spots. Bird watching during the spring migration will often bring unusual species to feeders.

Unfortunately, spring is also a time when people find sick or dead birds at their feeders. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) commonly receives reports of bird deaths in the spring and the usual cause is salmonellosis.

This spring is no exception. The DNR has confirmed salmonellosis in birds. Warm weather often contributes to the spread and growth of salmonellosis. It is spread from bird to bird through direct contact or through ingestion of food or water contaminated with feces from an infected bird or mammal.

To reduce the spread of the bacteria, clean feeders with a 10 percent bleach and water solution, rinse well and dry. People who have been finding dead birds, should not put the cleaned feeders back up for one to two weeks. This may force birds to move on to other areas, so they won't concentrate in one location and spread the disease. The addition of more feeders may reduce crowding and minimize opportunity for interaction and contamination.

Other ways to prevent spread of disease include raking up waste seeds and droppings below the feeders, using feeders with smooth surfaces, and putting several large patio blocks under feeders to make it easier to sweep up waste seed. Bird feeders with rough surfaces, cracks or crevices are difficult to sanitize.

The salmonella strain usually found in birds may cause illness in people. This risk can be minimized, however, by following common sense precautions such as wearing rubber gloves when handling dead birds or droppings, and washing hands afterwards in warm soapy water. Dead birds can be disposed of by burying them. Discourage pets from eating dead birds. Clean feeders in a bucket outside rather than in a kitchen sink. Seal waste seed and droppings in a plastic bag prior to putting in the trash.

Because of the media attention on avian influenza over the last several months, many people are afraid that the birds at their feeders could have avian flu. That is not likely, according to the DNR. Avian influenza (bird flu), H5N1, is killing both wild birds and domestic poultry in southeast Asia, but has not been found in any birds in North America. Backyard bird feeding is not currently a concern because avian influenza virus is found primarily in ducks and shorebirds, not in the birds typically seen in backyards like cardinals, chickadees and finches.

The DNR closely monitors the global avian influenza situation in wild birds, investigates reports of game bird die-offs in the wild and determines a cause of death whenever possible. The DNR does not need to test dead birds that are found incidentally at feeders. DNR staff are working with state, federal and local agencies to prepare for future response needs regarding avian influenza.

For more information on bird feeding, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/birdfeeding/index.html.

For more on avian flu (including additional links, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/waterfowl/avian_flu.html. 


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