Sunday, 12 May 2013

Sick Siskins

One of the big changes we noticed amongst the wild bird population when we returned from Canada was the big increase in the number of siskins at the peanut feeders.  During one lunchtime a couple of days ago we counted eleven siskins at one time.

At this time of year they're in their breeding plumage and the males, in particular, are beautiful.  They're also a bird with.... character.

We'd heard reports from elsewhere in the village that a disease was affecting siskins: now it's arrived with us.  A couple of days ago we saw a female walking on the ground with her feathers fluffed up, today it was this male who couldn't fly more than a few yards, and ended up standing dejectedly beside a flowerpot.

A search on the internet suggests that siskins suffer from diseases brought on by Salmonella and Escherichia - E. coli - with E. coli a strong suspect as it is most infectious in the months from March to June.  A site run by the Veterinary Science Division, Avian Health Unit, Ayr - here - describes the symptoms: "the birds appear fluffed up, reluctant to fly, appear to be breathing heavily and may look as if they are having difficulty in swallowing."  This describes our birds exactly.  An alternative is that they have the same disease as the greenfinches, Trichomonosis, as described at the BTO site here.

We've been through this with our greenfinches: they're only just beginning to recover.  There's no doubt that these diseases are encouraged by our drawing the birds to to bird feeders, which then help to spread the infection.  We now face the prospect of a summer without siskins, and it may be our fault.


  1. That is very sad.
    Siskins are delightful wee birds

    1. 1/6/13
      Today, on walking past a siskin feeding on a Nyjer seed feeder, I was surprised that it didn't fly away. Then I noticed that it was fluffed up and though it continued to feed, it's eyes were nearly closed and it appeared to be having difficulty in swallowing. Soon after this, it fell down into the grass below. I placed it in a safe,sunny spot, with water and more seed but it was clearly past help. It died within the hour. On examining it, there appeared to be a growth at the side of it's beak. On checking for diseases of siskins, I came across this site and the photograph is exactly as my sick bird appeared.
      I live in Dumfriesshire and have had a huge influx of goldfinch, siskin and redpoll in recent weeks. No greenfinch alas.

  2. It's not just here my friend over in Aberfeldy said she has the same problem and has found 14 dead Siskins in their garden, I have had 5 corpses here in our garden.I have scrubbed the bird table and washed the feeders with Jeyes Fluid in the hope that it will help.

  3. On my gardening round in Sheffield the most common bird heard this Spring has been, surprisingly, the siskin. Perhaps there's been an irruption, like waxwings. Fewer heard and seen now. I hope they've returned north rather than succumbed here too.

  4. Very sad news. We had our greenfinches wiped out a couple of years ago and now have just one pair, after suspending feeding for a long period and binning feeders to be on the safe side. It's horrible when you feel you might have helped spread a virus.

    It's even more worrying about the siskins, obviously, as they are less wide-spread in the UK. We have only ever had them as very occasional winter visitors (probably passing through).

  5. On our side of the Pond in Putney, Vermont we had the same problem with the Siskins a few years ago in March and April. We feed sunflower seeds in feeders through the cold season and many get strewn on the ground. In late winter the ground seeds get quite soggy with the snow melt. A vet told us that the Salmonella sickness was due to the moldy seeds on the ground being consumed by the birds. Keeping the area under the feeders as clean as possible may be a help. Jim Robinson

  6. Hi Jon, just read your blog on your sick birdies, as I am due up on 25th do you recommend i forget my usual bird feeding activities at Ockle. I wouldn't want to contribute to the problems

  7. Perhaps someone can help me with this, but my view is that we should continue to feed the birds but, as the correspondent from Putney, Vermont (I used to live in Putney, London) suggests, we should try to keep the area around the feeders clean. I have just disinfected my feeders, and am being more rigorous about hosing down the area under the feeders. So, Paul, I'm going on feeding them, and praying that I don't count 14 dead siskins over the next few weeks! Jon

  8. We are experiencing the same phenomenon here at the Nadurra Visitor Centre. Definitely something to do with communal feeding. The wet weather may be helping to infect the grain - especially below feeders. I am going to try hosing the ground daily as well as ensuring the feeders are disinfected.