Reports have surfaced of a small outbreak of salmonella among birds in the Wood River Valley. The affected birds are pine siskins, small creatures that are considered susceptible to salmonella.
Information on the birds' deaths first came from Jeramie Dreyfuss, a Hailey resident and bird enthusiast who said she found some 30 dead birds in her backyard. Dreyfuss sent the birds to Mark Drew, wildlife veterinarian for Idaho Fish and Game's Bureau of Wildlife, who performed an autopsy.
Drew said that the autopsy showed traces of salmonella in the birds. He did not yet know what strain of salmonella killed the birds or what caused the outbreak.
"We don't know the source," he said. "But my thoughts right now are that it's a feeder hygiene situation where there are a lot of feeders out and a lot of contaminated seed that's old and wet."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, salmonellosis is a bacterial disease caused by the bacteria. Many different kinds of salmonella can make people sick. Typical indications include diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain. The symptoms usually go away after one week. But, the diarrhea can become severe or the infection can affect other organs, requiring hospitalization.
Drew recommended people clean their bird feeders and maybe go as far as to stop feeding the birds for the next week or two.
Krysten Schuler, wildlife disease specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, agreed.
"We are having national reports of salmonellosis that is specific to birds," Schuler said. "The message to get out about this disease is that it is common to backyard birdfeeders, as they can easily become contaminated. So it's important for people to clean their feeders using a 10 percent bleach solution, and while outbreaks are going on like this, it is better to take down their feeders for about two weeks so the birds don't congregate."
Despite the die-off in Hailey, Schuler and Drew are not particularly concerned.
"This is not a problem that is unanticipated," Drew said. "We've seen the problem before, and it is happening in other places in the country."
In addition, Drew said the death of 30 birds is a very small and localized mortality event.
"Thirty birds out of a said population of 3,000 is very small, even if there may well be other incidents of death," he said.
Drew noted that people should pay attention to hygiene habits in their homes, especially for dogs, cats and young children, who can pick up contaminated seeds or bird feces.