LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) - Idaho fish and wildlife officials are recommending that residents take down their backyard bird feeders or clean them frequently amid a salmonella outbreak that has infected songbirds across the western U.S.
The outbreak has been reported along the west coast and as far inland as Idaho, the Lewiston Tribune reported Friday.
"I got a call from a citizen in Grangeville and another in Kamiah saying they had birds behaving strangely and matching the symptoms of salmonellosis," said Joel Sauder, a nongame biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston.
Those potential symptoms include wild birds behaving tamely, displaying lethargy, puffing up their feathers and not flying away when approached, the newspaper reported. Birds that are displaying these behaviors are typically well into the bacterial illness, which is usually fatal.
Salmonella is spread through bird droppings.
"You can help to stop the spread of salmonellosis by discontinuing backyard bird feeding until at least April 1 to encourage birds to disperse and forage naturally," said Kristin Mansfield, a veterinarian with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "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."
Feeders are where large amounts of birds tend to congregate in close quarters. It's also where birds often walk through or come in contact with the droppings of others.
"In general for wildlife, high densities of animals in close proximity to each other is a recipe for disease being spread," Sauder said.
Washington Fish and Wildlife officials said in a statement that it is uncommon but possible for salmonella to be spread from birds to humans.
They advise people not to handle dead or sick birds and to wear gloves when handling feeders or bird baths.