Help Keep Wild Birds Safe from Salmonella

Central Oregon has seen an increase in the number of wild, seed eating birds suffering from an outbreak of salmonella. Such outbreaks commonly occur during the winter months and can spread as birds like pine siskins and finches congregate at feeding sites where they can come into contact with infected birds or contaminated food or water. Salmonella infections in birds can become critical or fatal.

Oregon Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center, Think Wild, has received a significant number of calls and intakes related to salmonella infections in pine siskins and finches in the past few weeks. The wildlife hospital is urging residents to clean all bird feeders and baths regularly, or even more effective, take them down until April, to minimize birds from congregating. By practicing this “social distancing” for wildlife, residents can help prevent the disease spread.

Salmonella enterica or similar bacterial species cause these infections, which spread as birds or other animals shed the organism in their feces, contaminating food or water. These outbreaks can cause high mortality across large areas. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife state veterinarian, Colin Gillin, informed Think Wild that he estimates that millions of songbirds are likely affected by salmonella at bird feeders. This current outbreak has spread as far north as British Columbia and as far south as San Francisco and is affecting the entire state of Oregon.

“Signs of birds affected by salmonella include lethargy, ruffled feathers, diarrhea, emaciation, and possible plaques in the mouth and crop,” said Pauline Baker, Think Wild Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation. “Salmonella is transferable to humans and pets, so if you find a lethargic or deceased bird, we encourage the use of gloves and thorough hand washing after contact.”

Here are tangible ways that you can help native birds by mitigating the outbreak:

  • To minimize disease spread and prevent future outbreaks, disinfect bird feeders at least once a week by soaking or spraying them with a 10% bleach solution, rinsing them, and allowing them to dry.
  • Empty and clean bird baths daily.
  • If unable to clean feeders and bird baths regularly, take them down until April.
  • Avoid platform-style feeders, which can collect bird droppings where birds feed.
  • Avoid wooden bird feeders, which are difficult to disinfect.
  • Wearing gloves, remove deceased birds from areas surrounding birdfeeders. Call Think Wild (541) 241-8680 if you suspect a bird is sick or injured.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling feeders or baths.

This list is non-exhaustive, but we hope that you find it helpful. If you ever have any questions, Think Wild’s wildlife hotline, (541) 241-8680, is available seven days a week from 8 AM to 5 PM. Think Wild is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and tax-deductible donations can be made at or mailed to PO Box 5093 Bend, OR 97708.