The Red Crossbill is a type of finch, the same family of birds as American and Lesser Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Evening Grosbeak, Black Headed Grosbeak, and House Finch.
We have a severe outbreak happening in Central Oregon right now that has mostly affected the Red Crossbill. However, I am now getting calls on Pine Siskins (a brown sparrow looking bird with yellow bars on wings).
Hundreds of birds have or are going to die. I had over 30 calls in just a few days recently. This is county wide as well, though right now Sisters is getting hit the hardest.
Please read the FAQs below to help save these birds.
Should I take my feeder down?
I am not sure. If a lot of us did, then yes, it would help. The birds would die sooner essentially and not spread the disease.
However, removing only a few feeders simply sends birds to other people's feeders. It does not stop the disease. It further concentrates birds as more birds go to the feeders left up.
Here are some tips:
In an ideal world virtually every feeder should come down. And perhaps we can get everyone to do that...
1) What should we do with our feeders?
Here are the steps to take to prevent spread and save more birds.
a) First, clean and sterilize all feeders.
c) Clean up all debris from under feeders
d) Leaving feeders up: what you must do
e) Taking down all feeders. Pros, cons.
2) What is Salmonella?
This is a gut infection of the bacteria, Salmonella enterica. It is spread through the saliva and feces of infected birds. It is highly contagious, primarily to other birds at sites that have congregations of birds, particularly our feeders and water features or baths.
The salmonella subspecies that is affecting the Red Crossbill is endemic (adapted) to the finch species. This doesn't mean that another animal cannot get it, it just explains why this strain is focused in the finch family of birds.
In the last 40 years, salmonella outbreaks has increased exponentially across North America, due significantly to the bird feeding craze.
3) What are the Symptoms: What do I look for?
Some birds are asymptomatic carriers, showing no signs but still passing the infection through their droppings and saliva. Sick birds act lethargic (tired), sit a lot either at the feeder or often on the ground, may be fluffed up, might have the head tucked, and may be drooling or sound like they have respiratory infection.
Often they will act "tame", because the infection moves into the brain and affects their ability to function normally. It harms their intestinal tract and esophagus, along with other internal organs, making it difficult to eat. The ultimately die of starvation and dehydration.
4) How do birds get the infection?
Salmonella is passed through a bird's droppings and saliva. At feeders, birds' droppings and saliva can get onto parts of the feeder or on the food itself as they feed. Is spreads when another eats contaminated seeds or pokes around in the debris under the feeder where others have left feces.
This infection is also spread when one animal scavenges on another. So, crows, gulls, and other common omnivore scavengers (including raptors) can contract and spread the infection. It is spread through waterways as well.
5) Which species get the infection most?
The finch family is known to be the most susceptible to the finch form of this infection. Their immune systems simply are not as able as other birds to fight off large exposures. The finch family includes: goldfinches (lesser and American); house, purple, and cassin's finch; pine siskin; evening grosbeaks; black headed grosbeaks; and red crossbill. Other birds also get salmonella: mourning doves, starlings, blackbirds, gulls, the bird-eating raptors, crows, and others.
6) What do we do if we find a sick or dead bird?
Dead birds: use gloves to handle either sick or dead birds. Do not bury or leave dead birds out. Burying spreads the disease into the soil. Put dead birds into a plastic bag and dispose into trash.
Living, but sick birds: Collect the bird using gloves. They get sedate and tired, so simply pick them up with a paper towel or glove. Place into a small box or paper bag, on paper towels. Never leave sick birds in your yard, not only are they spreading the disease, but they are suffering as well. Text us for instructions for getting to Native Bird Care.
7) Can humans or pets get Salmonella?
Yes, but it is not likely. The amounts in bird feces are tiny, and we are large. It would take a lot of feces or we would have to have a very weak immune system.
Dogs and cats fend off salmonella all the time, but if they eat a sick or dead bird, then yes they can certainly get ill from the infection. If you have outside cats, you should not feed birds anyway, but for sure you shouldn't feed when there is a disease spreading.
Chickens carry their own particular subspecies of salmonella. It too can be spread to wild birds. In fact, agricultural animal waste is one source of salmonella infection for wild birds, particularly those associated with those animals (starlings and house sparrows). Chickens and wild birds can contract each other's subspecies of the infection, but it is less common that we know of. Chickens come with a host of other infectious diseases that affect our wild birds. Always ensure that wild birds cannot get into the chickens enclosures - for both sakes.
Please use common sense when handling sick or dead birds, and when cleaning your feeders and baths.
Gloves are mandatory.
The Red Crossbill's bill is uniquely adapted to opening unripe pine cones.
Acting as a lever, the bird inserts the bill open, then closes it to lever the cone scale open. The tips going up and down, lifts the scale.
This adaptation works because the biting pressure is higher, then the opening pressure.
A very neat and beautiful bird. Please do your part in saving them by following the information above.
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