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Central Oregon songbirds are dying at an alarming rate from salmonella

Native Bird Care in Sisters says dirty bird feeders could be playing a role

SISTERS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Salmonella infections in birds is a common occurrence in winter, but a summer outbreak is affecting a number of red crossbills in Central Oregon.

Elise Wolf, the director of Native Bird Care in Sisters, called the situation an outbreak.

"This has been a bad year," Wolf said Wednesday. "I would say (we received) 30 calls this year, which is a lot. And unfortunately, across the region, so it's not just isolated in one area -- it's everywhere."

Salmonella is a naturally occurring  bacteria found in the intestine of birds, but when it's transmitted from bird to bird, it can be fatal.

Wolf said she does not know why the outbreak is happening now, but that one contributing factor could be dirty bird feeders.

"Part of the problem we have with salmonella outbreaks is that through bird feeding, we congregate (the birds) into isolated areas, and that just makes it really easy for an infection to spread to the other birds," Wolf said.

Wolf said cleaning your bird feeder at least once a week could "absolutely" save bird lives. Wolf cleans her feeders with a combination of bleach and soap.

"If we don't take the feeders down, then that infection will just spread to the birds throughout the region," Wolf said.

Bob Herztler in Sisters did just that, taking down about seven of his bird feeders after a dozen birds died in his backyard from salmonella infections.

"Just like with COVID, if you get a bunch of organisms together in one area you're ripe for infection," Hertzler said. We were attracting populations so we just want to get rid of that."

Hertlzer said he does not plan on hanging his feeders back up during the summer.

"I mean, the health of the bird population is first and foremost," Hertzler said. "I'd rather they stay healthy and out of my yard, than enjoy them and (they) get sick."  

According to Wolf, if you find a dead bird in your backyard the best way to dispose of it is to put on gloves, place the bird in a bag and throw it away. She said burying the bird could cause more contamination.

If you find a bird that seems infected, Wolf said you can contact her at Native Bird Care. On the website, you can also find more information on cleaning your bird feeder.

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Jordan Williams

Jordan Williams is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jordan here.


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