Northern Maine birders are reporting big numbers of Common Redpolls visiting area feeders. These are likely some of the flocks that wintered in southern Maine and elsewhere starting to move back north towards their summer haunts.
I wanted to pass on that there have also been a high number of reports of sick redpolls appearing in across this area as well. In addition to personally spotting a couple in my yard, I have heard of almost a dozen other cases in northern Maine. These were reported in Caribou, Castle Hill, Sherman, Monticello, Easton and Presque Isle. In one yard I visited, the homeowner and I found 14 dead Common Redpolls and 6 or 7 apparently ill birds still sluggishly hopping around on the snow. I haven't heard of other species of birds being found sick or dead.
The sick birds were easy to approach and looked puffed up. Some had droopy wings. Russ Mount sent me this photo of a struggling bird.
According to my biologist friends, it looks like the redpolls around here are suffering from Salmonellosis, a severe infection from the bacteria Salmonella ssp. This disease is spread readily among birds congregating at feeders at this time of the year. The smaller finch species are most susceptible to its effects. Pets and humans can also be effected.
The professionals in-the-know recommended removing and cleaning the feeders in 1 part bleach to 10 part water dilution (NOT in the kitchen sink). Rubber gloves and good hygiene are in order when handling these.
It's also imperative to clean up the end-of-winter gurry of waste seed, hulls and feces that piles up under many of our feeders this time of year. This pile is usually soggy, dark colored and warms easily in the strengthening spring sun and provides a great spot for bacteria to incubate.
Last, it may be a good time to just bring in the feeders for a while and let the redpoll flocks disperse. This is a time in northern Maine when lots of non-bird critters are showing up and causing trouble at feeders anyway. My black bear is probably due any day....
According my reading, its tough to predict when and where a Salmonella outbreak will occur but late winter and early spring are reported to be the most likely times. Preventative regular scrubbings of feeders and debris clean up are good ideas.
Just to continue to track the local outbreak, I'd like to hear if anyone else sees sick birds in their area.
Theres all kinds of good info online on Salmonellosis for those inclined to read more. Heres a link to good synopsis of the disease: