We all love our birds—both those who live here all year long and our seasonal visitors. Seeing their beauty and hearing their songs brings us so much joy! And of course, we can't forget the vital role they play in our environment by helping to control insects, spread seeds and pollinate plants.
As we celebrate National Bird Feeding Month, read on to learn how using native plants provides food, shelter and a literal oasis for our feathered friends while keeping them safe.
This Time Last Year
Last year we were in the midst of an avian pandemic as Pine Siskins and other finch species were experiencing the effects of a deadly Salmonellosis outbreak. In what was one of the largest irruptions (a period marked by a sudden change in population density) in recent history, Pine Siskins, who migrate from Canada, were sighted in greater numbers and in different locations because their usual food sources were insufficient.
Pine Siskins are extremely susceptible to Salmonellosis, a deadly bacterial infection that rapidly spreads through entire populations of birds, including those of other species. When birds congregate in close quarters, the infection easily spreads from one bird to many.
Last year, our backyard feeders became a prime source of the spread and BRC became inundated with Pine Siskins and finches suffering from this usually fatal infection. Salmonellosis never disappears entirely, but fortunately, this winter we are back to seeing a more normal number of Salmonellosis patients, having admitted just seven cases so far, almost all from goldfinch species. The number of Pine Siskins in our care for any reason has also declined dramatically, indicating their migratory numbers are back to typical levels. We have only received two Pine Siskins this year and those came to us with issues unrelated to Salmonellosis.
This tells us their migratory numbers are back to patterns of typical years. This seems to indicate last year's irruption year was an aberration; however, we have sent the deceased birds we suspect were afflicted with Salmonellosis and died out for further testing in order to learn as much as we can.
One thing we know for sure, the world of wildlife rehabilitation is ever-changing and, just as COVID brought a major change to the human world, so too did this outbreak bring a change to our avian population.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
While we’re not anticipating another major outbreak of Salmonellosis, we are keeping out a watchful eye. Infected birds can be spotted fairly easily—if you know what to look for. Healthy birds have a sleek appearance and dark eyes. Visual symptoms of an infected bird include lethargy, a puffed/fluffed-up appearance, and eyes that are red and/or partially closed. If an outbreak is happening in your area, you may also find dead birds that have no visual wounds or signs to indicate cause of death.
Should the need arise, The Bird Rescue Center is here to provide rescue and treatment to those impacted by Salmonellosis, injury or other diseases.
You can make an impact by helping to fund the life-saving work happening each day at The Bird Rescue Center. Together we'll ensure more birds get a second chance at a healthy life in the wild!
Clean Feeders Are Still Critically Important
One of the best ways to prevent the spread of Salmonellosis is to keep bird feeders and bird baths clean and disease-fee. We recommend cleaning at least once per week—and if you see sick birds in your area, remove your feeders and cover your bird baths for a couple weeks to help break the cycle.
How to clean your feeders
Clean and disinfect all feeders at least once per week, all year-round.
Tip: Keep duplicates of each type of feeder so you can place a fresh one out while the other is being cleaned.
Safely discard any remaining food into your yard waste or trash bins including any spilled seed or debris below your feeders. This will help to improve overall yard cleanliness, reduce the risk of children or domestic animals contacting potentially contaminated seeds, and reduce the presence of rodents foraging off dropped seeds.
Scrub feeders inside and out with warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
Soak feeders in a warm bleach solution (1pt. bleach to 9pt. warm water) for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, place the bleach solution in a spray bottle and coat feeders inside and out. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.
Allow feeders to fully air dry before refilling and rehanging.
How to clean your bird baths
All bird baths should be emptied daily and refilled with fresh water all year-round.
Each week, clean and disinfect all bird baths following the same procedure noted above for cleaning feeders.
You and your loved ones, both human and animal, are most at risk of contracting a disease from contact with infected equipment (feeders, bird baths, etc.) and dropped seeds and debris. If you have chickens, make sure wild birds do not have access to their feed and that they, in turn, do not have access to seed from your feeders. Pets—especially free-roaming cats—are also at risk from hunting infected birds which is one of many good reasons to keep your felines indoors or contained in a catio*.
Together, we can keep everyone safe—our families, pets and our precious wildlife!
*Use PromoCode BirdRescueCenter for any Catio purchase and 10% of your purchase will be donated to BRC!
Native plants are also important.
But what should I plant?
Native plants provide natural food sources and encourage more natural foraging behaviors in birds. They also reduce the risk of contamination because birds are not flocking to congested feeders.
The native plants you choose for your yard will determine the kinds of birds you attract. Plants that offer fruit, seeds and nuts will attract different birds than those that offer nectar. The latter will also attract caterpillars and butterflies. For migrating birds, we need to match their window of migration to the "produce" available in our gardens.
For example, stunningly beautiful Cedar Waxwings love berries, so a good choice for them might be the Frangula californica (California Coffeeberry) or the Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon or California Christmas Berry) that bears fruit during their winter migration through our area. To attract Hummingbirds, you'd want to select a plant that produces nectar, so the Scrophularia californica (California Figwort or Bee Plant) would be a great option.
Check out this extensive native plant database from the Audubon Society—simply enter your zip code and you'll get a long list of native plants as well as the different bird species they will attract.
Some other resources are:
• California Native Plant Society
• Garden Design
• Master Gardener
Why are you seeing so many more hummingbirds this time of year? It's time for them to mate, nest, and hatch!
They are typically our first babies to arrive—months before any others come to our doors. The males are now establishing territories, wooing the females with high-pitched notes produced by their tail feathers and eventually will be taking care of baby hummingbirds not more than the size of a jelly bean.
If you supply supplemental food for hummingbirds, make sure not to choose anything with coloring. These dyes are detrimental to the birds. A simple solution of one part sugar to four parts water works well. And make sure to clean your hummingbird feeders frequently not prevent harmful mold and bacteria. Clean them each time they are emptied or at least every other day.
Should you be lucky enough to spot one of their well-concealed, golfball-sized nests adorned with plant fibers and spider silk, please watch from a distance as the babies grow. Mom is quick as a flash when she comes to feed her babies, so if there is ever a question about whether something has happened to her, our first request will be that you watch, unblinking, for 30 minutes to see if she has truly abandoned the nestlings.
Northern Fulmar Stranding Update
After sharing the daring rescue and transportation train from the coast to our friends at International Bird Rescue in mid-December, we've had several requests for a Fulmar Update. Here is the latest update according to International Bird Rescue:
"Many of the stranded fulmars show signs of a disease we have been curious about for approaching two decades! In 2003, 2010, and 2012 there were similar stranding events of fulmars along the California coast; some years showed thousands of dead fulmars washing up on beaches with a few dozen entering rehabilitation alive. During each of these events, the birds have largely been first-year birds. They are weak, underweight, and severely anemic, plus each time we have noticed unusual lesions – severe anemia, plus small hemorrhages, nodules, and blisters, mostly in their foot webbing.
The fulmar deaths were often caused by various secondary fungal or bacterial infections. In 2012 we enlisted pathologists to help us try to get to the bottom of the weird lesions in these stranded birds. Several highly respected wildlife pathologists were convinced the lesions were viral in origin. Their efforts resulted in the identification of one novel virus, a gyrovirus, that became a candidate for the culprit, however solid evidence of a cause and effect relationship between this virus and the mass stranding of affected birds and their symptoms remained elusive.
The novel virus isolated in 2012 was most closely related to a virus that causes symptoms in chickens similar to what we see in the fulmars – hemorrhages, anemia, and vulnerability to secondary infections. Hence, it seemed a plausible cause of what we see in the birds during care, but not a sure thing. Nonetheless, we dubbed it Fulmar Foot Syndrome long, long ago.
Historically, about half of the birds that have made it into care have survived to release and we have never seen any evidence that the disease is contagious between birds during care.
The fulmars in care have the symptoms of this unknown disease, and most are doing very well in recovery, while obviously enjoying our poolside food service menu. Fulmars can be binge eaters that eat enthusiastically, running up quite a food bill.
You can read the entire update by clicking here.
We hope you will join us in celebrating our native wild birds during National Bird Feeding Month. By providing natural food sources and maintaining a clean environment, you are helping to keep them safe and ensuring we can all enjoy the many benefits of having them in our communities.
Remember, BRC is here to help whenever you find a bird in need. Together, we can make such a difference!
With all my heart,