- A record number of redpolls in the Fairbanks area this
winter  brought a colorful presence to bird feeders. Now, however,
many of the red-capped finches are dying.
- Reports of dead redpolls at household bird feeders in
Fairbanks and Nenana have been increasing. Alaska Department of Fish and
Game (ADF&G) suspected the birds were dying of salmonellosis bacteria.
Such an outbreak was anticipated when it became apparent that redpolls
would have a commanding presence in the area this season.
- But Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen
said Sunday [6 Feb 2005] that preliminary cultures did not confirm salmonellosis.
"The way the die-off was going ... it was very suspicious of salmonella,"
Beckmen said. Beckmen sent tissues from dead redpolls to the state public
health lab last week [1st week of February 2005]. She received the results
Friday [4 Feb 2005]. She sent another sample to the Washington Animal Disease
Diagnostic Lab and expects those results today [7 Feb 2005].
- Beckmen said the next likely affliction to cause a similar
die-off is a mycoplasma organism. But the dead redpolls she has seen do
not have corresponding signs. "I'm really very shocked it's not salmonella
at this point," she said. "It should have been salmonella. I
don't know what else it could be."
- Beckmen said that if the Washington lab does not get
a salmonella culture, it will continue to work on the sample until it isolates
the cause. Whatever the outcome, Beckmen said it is likely the culprit
is being passed from bird to bird at feeders and that bird enthusiasts
should continue to take precautions as if the outbreak was salmonella.
That includes cleaning feeders frequently and disposing of dead birds so
that pets do not become infected.
- Beckmen has not received reports of any sick or dying
birds aside from redpolls. She said one Nenana resident called to report
dying redpolls, but said chickadees at the same feeder were doing just
- Wildlife biologist John Wright said the high numbers
of redpolls this year  increased the chances of an outbreak. For
several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the redpoll count went
up and down before leveling off in the late 1990s.
- This year , the red-capped finches arrived early
and in full force. Usually not seen in the area until January or February,
record numbers were being spotted as early as October. The Christmas Bird
Count documented 8231 redpolls in this year's annual tally, surpassing
the previous record of 7164 redpolls counted in 1997.
- Wright said the die-offs may startle some people, but
suspects that less than one percent of the redpoll population is affected.
"It's definitely a major mortality factor, but it's not affecting
the population," he said.
- Most disease, such as salmonella, is spread from bird
to bird, and die-offs often occur in winter when birds are stressed from
the cold and congregate at feeders. Feces contaminate the feeders and infect
- Wright said the feeding characteristics of the gluttonous
finches also contribute to outbreaks. "Redpolls just go sit and munch
right there in the feeder," Wright said. Feces on and around the feeders
then infect other birds. Pets, especially cats, can easily become infected
if they come into contact with feces or dead birds. Humans are less likely
to become seriously ill from an outbreak of salmonella among birds, a strain,
Beckmen said that is similar to that found in uncooked poultry.
- Wright said there hasn't been a die-off this broad in
the area since a salmonella outbreak 10 or 12 years ago. The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service reported an outbreak of salmonellosis in pine siskins
in the Juneau area about 3 weeks ago.
- While feeders are a major conduit of the bacteria, fish
and game officials warn against removing feeders, because that can cause
additional deaths from starvation. Rather, constant and vigilant cleaning
can curb outbreaks. Feeders should be emptied, scraped, soaked and cleaned
with hot soapy water, rinsed and disinfected with a one-to-9 part bleach
and water solution. Clean feeders should be soaked in the bleach solution
for up to 20 minutes, rinsed well and air dried. Wright said feeders should
be cleaned once a week, if weather allows. He said it is also important
to clean feces and debris from around the feeder.
- Use caution when discarding dead birds by using a plastic
bag to pick them up and disposing of them in a sealed bag and trash can
where pets cannot get to them. Hands should be thoroughly washed after
cleaning and filling feeders and discarding dead birds.
- Anyone noting ill or dead birds is asked to notify ADF&G
at 907 459-7206.
- We hope that when Dr. Beckmen has a definitive diagnosis
she will be kind
- enough to share it with ProMED-mail. - Mod.TG
- Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
- Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" message
board at: http://www.clickitnews.com/ubbthreads/postlist.php?
- Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa
- Go with God and in Good Health