Archived Outdoors

N.C. birds suffering from bacterial infection

A concerning number of goldfinch and pine siskin birds have been reported dead across the state over the past few weeks, and preliminary results from carcass testing point to salmonellosis, a common bacterial disease linked to birdfeeders.

Salmonellosis is often fatal in songbirds, leading the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to recommend that people who keep birdfeeders clean and decontaminate them. Sick birds may appear thin, fluffed up, depressed, with swollen eyelids and difficulty passing waste. They are often lethargic and easy to approach.

The Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study laboratory that conducted the testing has reported widespread cases of salmonellosis in the Southeastern United States. Their findings, coupled with the number of calls fielded by the Wildlife Commission and partner agencies, have put biologists on alert.

The Wildlife Commission recommends cleaning birdfeeders frequently with a dilute bleach solution that is no more than one part bleach to nine parts water, allowing the feeder to dry completely before refilling. 

“If you suspect salmonellosis, the only option is to remove the feeder completely for a period of two to three weeks,” said Wildlife Commission Biologist Greg Batts.

Even after intensive cleaning, recontamination is common because bacteria shed through feces, and some birds are carriers. For this reason, it’s inadvisable to scatter birdseed on the ground, as birds can acquire the infection this way while feeding together. Pets that eat dead or dying songbirds may also be at risk of infection, as can humans who handle sick of dead birds. When disposing of carcasses, wear gloves and bury the animal or throw it in the trash after double-bagging it. 

Report suspected salmonellosis cases to the Wildlife Helpline at 1.866.318.2401 or by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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