OLYMPIA, Wash. - A deadly bird disease is still spreading throughout Washington and other Northwest states.
Wildlife officials have extended their recommendation to leave your bird feeders down through April 1 instead of February. And if you do leave your bird feeders up, they ask that you take extra steps to clean and sanitize them.
The state has seen a die-off of finches and other songbirds since early January. Salmonellosis, a common and usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria, is to blame.
When birds flock together in large numbers at feeders, they can transmit the disease through droppings and saliva.
The first sign that a bird may have salmonellosis is often a seemingly tame bird on or near a feeder. Birds infected with salmonella become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach. Unfortunately, at this point there is very little people can do to treat them.
Wildlife officials say leave these birds alone and report them - and dead birds - to WDFW’s online reporting tool.
They also say you don't have to worry about birds not having enough food during the winter months.
"Birds use natural food sources year-round, even while also using backyard bird feeders, so they should be fine without the feeders for another month," WDFW veterinarian Dr. Kristin Mansfield said.
If you do leave your bird feeder up, you should clean it daily by rinsing well with warm soapy water, then dunking in a solution of nine parts water and one part bleach. Finish by rinsing and drying before refilling.
You're also asked to reduce the number of feeders to a number you can clean daily, as well as using feeders that accommodate fewer birds (such as tubes rather than platforms) and spreading out feeder locations.
Keep the ground below bird feeders clean by raking or shoveling up feces and seed casings and turn over or cover bird baths so birds cannot access them.
It is possible, although uncommon, for salmonella bacteria to transfer from birds to humans through direct contact with infected birds, droppings or through domestic cats that catch sick birds.
When handling birds, bird feeders or bird baths, it is best to wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly afterward.
You can learn more here.