Bird and pet lovers alike can help stop the spread with good sanitation practices.
bird at bird feeder
Credit: Tom Meaker / EyeEm / Getty

The U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Thursday warned that a salmonella outbreak connected to feeding or interacting with wild songbirds has been linked to dead birds in California and human illnesses in eight states.

Salmonellosis is an infection spread by the bacteria salmonella that's found in the intestinal tracts of animals. It's usually transmitted to humans through uncooked food products—such as meat, eggs, milk, and some vegetables—that have come in contact with large animal feces. Pet reptiles, goslings, chicks, and wild birds can also spread the bacteria. Symptoms can include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain.

About two months ago, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reported that residents found pine siskins—a member of the finch family streaked with brown and yellow—sick or dead because of salmonellosis. People found so many birds that CDFW's wildlife centers have been "inundated" with calls.

"When large numbers of pine siskins congregate, the disease can spread rapidly causing high mortality. Most birds die within 24 hours of infection," according to the CDFW. This particular outbreak is also affecting small numbers of American goldfinches and lesser goldfinches. 

The CDC indicated that "salmonella germs can spread between species of birds, to pets, and to people." So far, eight states have reported 19 human illnesses, eight of which have require hospitalization: California, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. Follow this interactive map for an update on this salmonella concern.   

We all love to watch the birdies flitting around, so to reduce the possibility of salmonella contamination at your bird feeders and with your pets, the CDC recommends the following: 

  1. Clean and disinfect your wild bird feeders weekly, first with hot water and soap, then with a 9:1 water-bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly, then let dry. To avoid food preparation areas in your home, always clean feeders outdoors. 
  2. Immediately wash your hands with soap and hot water after refilling or cleaning bird feeders.
  3. Train your pets to stay away from feeders and bird baths and the areas around them so they don't track the disease indoors on their paws or worse, chase after a diseased bird. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling their food bowls, water dishes, and toys.

 Additionally, don't feed wild birds by hand.

If you find a sick wild bird, contact your local wildlife control or rehabilitation agency for advice on the next steps. If you find a dead bird and you're certain it's not because of an animal incident or window collision, the CDC suggests contacting your state's fish and wildlife agency to learn about what might be happening in your area and what to do.