Wednesday, March 4, 2009

dying finches


I've heard from several people in the past two weeks about dying finches: house finches, goldfinches, pine siskins and even a purple finch, here in the Tennessee Valley. All near backyard feeders.

A search of the Internet turns up this quote which matches the description of what I've been hearing. "Over the last couple of weeks I've noticed a few birds (only greenfinches seem affected at the moment) on my garden feeders which have been looking pretty ill. Symptoms- slow and lethargic, not responding to danger, i.e. cats and people, sitting on the ground for long periods." Also, they have difficulty perching.

Greenfinches do not live in my part of the world, so apparently this is a widespread phenomenon.

It does not seem to be the finch conjunctivitis, the eye disease, that I witnessed at my own feeder last summer. Or is it?

Does anyone know what's going on??

(Pictured is a healthy European greenfinch.)


Vickie said...

I have had one dead pine siskin and two more that were lethargic over the past two weeks. But I have not seen any conjunctivitis.

The most disturbing and different symptom wise, was a male purple finch unable to grasp a perch, whether feeder or tree. While on the ground he flipped over on his back and struggled to right himself in a stiff-legged fashion. My research on the purple finch symptoms has turned up nothing though I suspect simonella for the pine siskins.

I found this post on TWRA's website:

I am also following Cornell's recommendations:

Vickie said...

The Cornell link again:

Patty said...

A couple of weeks ago I found a little bird sitting on my porch window sill and it never attempted to move as I walked past it. It sat there for a couple more days until I finally realized that it had died and had to remove it. I think it was a Finch. It never occurred to me that it might be connected to a larger problem but after reading the other responses now I wonder if it was.

Nicki said...

I received the following message from the Piedmont Wildlife Center in Durham, NC about bird seed contaminated with salmonella. I wonder if this could explain the finch die off around feeders.

PWC encouraged us to pass this message along:"You may have already heard on the news that there has been a recall of certain types of bird food due to salmonella contamination. If not, you can find one original article here. The recall applies to 20-pound packages of Wild Birds Unlimited Wildlife Blend bird food with the manufacturing date code of 81132200 2916 08124, obtained from Burkmann Feeds. At this time, this is the only bird food recalled.

Those Wild Birds Unlimited stores that received bird food from that distributor have already pulled the food from their shelves, but all our birdfriends out there should check the food they have on hand to see if it matches the description of the recalled food. If in doubt, please contact your local Wild Birds Unlimited store. Please note that not all WBU stores receive food from the distributor under the recall, and of those that do, they may not receive all of their food from there. The contamination is linked to peanuts contained in a particular blend.

If you find, or simply suspect, that you have been using the food involved in the recall in your bird feeders, it is highly recommended that you disinfect your feeders and all containers (such as storage containers) that may have come in contact with the food. Salmonella is transmissable to humans and can lead to serious health problems, and wild bird populations can be infected with salmonella even without contact with the recalled food. You can find details on disinfection here, and please use all precautions to prevent contamination to yourself, your family, and food preparation areas."

bridgett said...

I Have had at least a dosen finches die within the last few days. I became very concerned and called the DNR. The lady told me she has had calls about this and said it is probably salmonella. I live in northern Michigan and we still have plenty of snow on the ground. The birds are eating off the ground in flocks. I have tried to shovel the old bird seed up but it is froze in the snow. I thought maybe it was the bag of sunflower seed I bought (Royal Wing) I do not see any recalls on-line for the sunflower seed. Why are just my finches dying and not the other birds? The bad thing is they are hobbeling into my fenced in back yard through the gate and my dog is picikng them up. I now need to call my vet this morning. I don't know what to do about the seed on the ground. It is froze solid as we had rain and then snow. I am hoping it will warm up over the next couple days so I can clean the mess up. I feel so horrible that my finches are dying. I have been feeding the wild birds for over 30 years and have never seen this problem. I clean my feeders regulary. I just don't knwo what to do.

Patty said...

I found another dead Finch in my yard this week too. I noticed that Bridgett said it was only Finches that she is seeing and that's all I've seen dead too. So, how could it be the bird seed then? Seems like if it was the seed other types of birds would be dying too. I buy my seed from our local Farmer's Co-Op. It does seem very widespread because Bridgett says she lives in Michigan and I'm in the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. I've been feeding the birds for years too and this is the first time I've ever found any dead birds. At least I can feel a little better in finding it's probably not anything I'm doing since it seems to be happening everywhere. But, if it's salmonella where on earth are they getting it from?

blueidone said...

I live in Western Maine, and we are starting to see this problem here also. Our local paper ran a story last week regarding a man who's finches were dying off, and the same week we found 2 dead purple finches in our yard. Could a disease have spread this far north so fast, or should we suspect the food? I've read reports from places in NC that this is happening too, so it's very wide spread!!

Abigail said...

NF-Wawa, Ontario, Canada
I noticed unusual behaviour at my bird feeders lately. There are purple finches sitting on the ground, below the bird feeders. They are lethargic and I can get so close to them, it looks like they are dying. I found this website while trying to figure out what is wrong with them. I have fed birds for years and never seen this type of behaviour.

Anonymous said...

I had 11 dead goldfinches yesterday and 6 dead all ready today and I live in Hailey, Idaho. I have 25 feeders and have dilligently cleaned them and cleaned their heated birdbathes at least twice a day since I have such a huge amount of birds that have found me as their only feeding ground this winter. I have tried everything I can think of to figure out what is wrong. The chickadees are fine. So are the redwinged black birds that finally taught themselves how to eat off the feeders...they are such clowns. Even the magpies are doing fine. But so many of my little finches look all puffed up and act lethargic and don't run when you approach. I actually brought one in the other night as it was very cold and it was huddled up to the garage door and would have been squished when I shut the door. Unfortuately it was dead in the morning. To freak me out all the more my dog keeps bringing dead birds in and putting them on the bed. I collected the last few days worth of dead birds and put each one in a baggie and then in a bigger plastic bag and froze them and UPS'd them to the Wildlife Health Lab in Caldwell, Idaho and Dr. Mark Drew has received them and hopefully will have an answer today as to what is causing their death. If I get an answer I will post it here. For those of us who love these birds and have worked so hard to keep them fed and watered and safe all through the cold winter this is so tragic. The good news is he said they should be dispersing soon to start nesting. Clearly the large amounts, possibly thousands, of birds that have found my yard as a place to find seed is part of the problem. Nyger seed is so expensive and the sunflower hulls are equally expensive that I think in this recession people stopped feeding them. Good luck to all of us who love these beautiful little birds.

Jeramiedreyfuss said...

I think I finally figured out how to leave a name here. My name is Jeramie Dreyfuss and I am very concerned about what is happening to the finches that are dying off at my feeders. As I said before, if I find out anything from the autopsy of the dead birds I found in the last few days I will be sure to let as many people know as possible. A couple months ago I saw a bird who had a ablind eye and read a lot about the bacterial infection that was attacking the finches. I did what someone suggested and ordered Tylan powder and put one teaspoon mixed with one gallon water and put it in their heated birdbathes every day for 2 weeks. I never saw another blind finch but now something else is affecting them and seems to be all over this country. Our snow is melting quickly but it is real hard to get the shells up when they are frozen and then compacted. I suspect that I need to get a shovel and dig up all the old seeds. Once I discovered that we need to pick up all the seeds I stopped buying sunflower seeds and only bought the chips.

Jeramie said...

My pine siskins, not goldfinches as I first believed, have all died from salmonella. I have taken down all my feeders, gone to great length to clean up all the seeds and droppings around all of them including putting gravel or new bought soil over the areas that I couldn't clean up entirely.Dead birds were being found all over my valley and we finally got the local Idaho Mountain Express to post an article on the front page warning people. Apparently cats are the most susceptible, but dogs and then we humans as our pets can bring the dead birds inside or kiss us or whatever. I hope the heat that may be coming next week will help end this. This is a cyclical problem, not entirely unexpected by the health department. Good luck to all.

Marko said...

I live in Northern Ontario and still have birds dying weekly.

This morning their was an Evening Grosbeak hiding from the heavy rain in front of my garage. It didn't look right as it was disheveled, puffy and had it's head buried in it's shoulder.

These are the same symptoms that plagued the siskens and red polls at my feeder. This is the first Grosbeak though.

I have dispatched at least eight birds in the past two months. I hate to see the birds suffer so much.

Marko in Searchmont

Stephen Lyn Bales said...

Hello Marko.

I'm sorry to hear about your grosbeak. It sounds like the same thing that was affecting the other finches. With the coming of spring, all of that is apparently gone from our valley. It was bad for awhile, but I've heard of no new reports in the past two months.

I posted a follow-up to the original on March 22 with at least a few answers.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...


I live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Over the past few days I have noticed a number of very lethargic and obviously sick pine siskins at my feeder. It is such a tragedy to witness these gregarious and friendly little birds lose their vitality and eventually die! We have such a variety of birds visiting our yard and now worry about cross-infection!

I suspect that the birds became infected with salmonella - something that I have been reading about lately. I have taken down all my feeders, disinfected them, and will not put them up again until late fall or winter. I also disinfected my bird baths, raked the gravel beneath the bird feeders and applied a layer of fresh sand and dirt over the ground.

The problem with finch die-off appears to be wide-spread and is of some concern to avid birders such as myself. I feel terrible and hope that I have not somehow contributed to their demise for feeding them so late in the season.

I don't think the disease is related to bird seed, but I will dispose of the seed I have left and buy fresh in the fall.

Good birding!


Gerry said...

I too have had 8 Gold Finch die off in the last few weeks - they arrived as a large flock - at least 40 of them at a time and that was so exciting but this is terribly distressing as the 9th one is just sitting there as tho he too will bite the dust - they get bloated up, lethargic, and keel over right on the feeding tray itself. No other breed of bird seems affected YET tho for some strange reason I have not seen a single Blue Jay these past weeks and they are year-round visitors - have about 8 of them normally? And just yesterday had one Squirrel arrive that has been coming for several years - appears he too has this perching problem - hind end and nervous system impairment it appears. He can hardly jump.
My location Seattle, Washington

TL Willett said...

I found a dead finch yesterday, and now watching a little guy dying by my feeder--labored breathing, barely holding on to a twig and not fleeing when my dog went by. I'm glad I'm not alone in this--though I wish it wasn't happening anywhere. Last week I saw mother and father cardinal feeding a clearly fledged youngster who wasn't able to fly. He hopped quite close to the house, and those parent continued to feed him for a few days until the little guy died. Earlier this year I found two dead birds in my pond, which had never happened before. I'm going to clean all my feeders asap.

Oh gosh--just remembered I've seen squirrels fall from trees at least three times, which I thought was very odd. This is frightening--