Bird Feeders Can Go Up Again, But Remain Vigilant, Washington State Officials Say

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A drop in the number of reports of sick or dead birds across Washington and other Northwest states means backyard bird feeders can be put back up, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But please remain cautious and vigilant, the department said on its website.

The deadly outbreak in pine siskins and other songbirds had officials in the northwest United States asking people to put away bird feeders and drain birdbaths for a few months this past winter to discourage the congregation that spread the disease through droppings and saliva.

Reports of sick or dead birds have decreased substantially since January when the alarm was first sounded, said state fish and wildlife officials, but they are still coming in. The department is recommending that people consider using smaller feeders that accommodate fewer birds and keep the ground below feeders cleared of droppings and seed casings.

Also, use caution when handling bird feeders or baths to avoid spreading the salmonella bacteria to humans. When filling or cleaning feeders, be sure to wear disposable gloves and wash hands thoroughly afterward. The Centers for Disease Control has confirmed cases of salmonella in humans recently, believed to have been passed from infected birds.

"The disease is still circulating, and we could see the numbers jump back up if we ease precautions too quickly," said WDFW veterinarian Dr. Kristin Mansfield. "If you usually feed birds at multiple feeders, consider putting up only one or two — widely spaced on your property — to start."

Report sick or dead birds to WDFW's online reporting tool.

Birds infected with salmonella become tame, very lethargic, fluff out their feathers and are easy to approach.

In areas where bears are present, feeders should stay down from March through November when bears are most active, said Chris Anderson, the district wildlife biologist for District 12 in King County. The feeders can attract bears into yards and make them accustomed to finding food there, he said.

"We want them wild — they are around us — we are in bear country," he said in an email. "We will have bears as long as there is habitat for them and related natural resources required to meet their needs. We want them keyed in on those natural resources to support their life needs. When they start keying in on human sources of food, individual bears can quickly become habituated as our garbage and other attractants are easy, high-calorie piles of food that often are quite regular."

Anderson also recommends using native plants to attract birds and other desired wildlife in providing not only food but also cover and spaces for nesting.

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