A Pine Siskin Irruption Year
It looks like the 2020-2021 winter season is going to be an irruption year of winter finches! We are having many reports of large flocks (100+ birds) of Pine Siskins in and around our area. Watch for them at your feeders where they are primarily sunflower chip and nyger seed eaters, along with American and Lesser Goldfinches.
While Siskins are reported in our area every year (and throughout most of the year), their numbers vary from year to year. We often see large irruptions, (approximately every other year), of winter finches (which include Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, & Common Redpoll), migrating from the northern boreal forests of Canada when the coniferous cone crop is poor driving birds south in search of food for the winter.
Because Pine Siskins are very social and travel in large flocks, they can be susceptible to Salmonellosis. This is a bacterium that is primarily transmitted by fecal contamination of food and water by sick birds, though it also can be transmitted by bird-to-bird contact. Occasionally, outbreaks of the disease cause significant mortality in certain species including Pine Siskin and American Goldfinch. To reduce the risk of disease at feeders, we encourage people to clean feeders regularly. (Once a month is not too often!). It is also a good idea to avoid crowding at feeders by adding extra feeders and providing ample feeder space. Crowding is a key factor in spreading disease and also creates stress which may make birds more vulnerable to disease. Because feeders offer you an up-close view of birds, and because birds seek out easy meals especially when their health is compromised, you might occasionally see a sick bird at your feeder. If you see sick or dead birds near your feeders, minimize the risk of infecting other birds by immediately cleaning your feeder area thoroughly. You do not need to stop feeding! There are studies that show birds that have access to supplemental feed, especially in the winter, have a better chance of survival. Our feeders are not the cause of salmonella, but they can spread it if not kept clean.
Be sure to take extra care in your own personal hygiene when handling soiled feeders, baths, or houses by washing your hands or even wearing disposable gloves as the bacteria causing Salmonellosis in wild birds have the ability to infect humans also.
***Note: Wild Birds Unlimited offers a feeder cleaning service, $5.00/feeder. Drop them off and pick them back up the next day.