Salmonellosis Outbreak Causing Songbird Deaths

Since December, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and wildlife rehabilitation centers have been inundated with calls from residents who are finding sick or dead finches at bird feeders. Most reports have come from locations on California’s Central Coast, the San Francisco Bay Area and Sierra Nevada communities. CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory has evaluated birds from several locations and determined the cause of illness to be Salmonellosis, a disease cause by Salmonella bacteria.

Pine Siskin. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pine siskins, a species of finch that winters in California, are the primary species affected by the outbreak. The disease has also been reported in smaller numbers of lesser goldfinches and American goldfinches. 

“Salmonellosis occurs periodically in pine siskins in some winters throughout their range. When large numbers of pine siskins congregate, the disease can spread rapidly causing high mortality. Most birds die within 24 hours of infection,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Krysta Rogers, an avian disease specialist. 

Birds become infected with Salmonella when they ingest food, water or come into contact with objects (e.g., bird feeders, perches, soil) contaminated with feces from an infected bird. Sick birds often appear weak, have labored breathing, and may sit for prolonged periods with fluffed or ruffled feathers. 

Salmonellosis is almost exclusively reported from locations with bird feeders where birds congregate. Residents can help reduce disease transmission by removing bird feeders and bird baths. Allowing birds to feed on natural seeds rather than at bird feeders reduces contact between birds and helps slow spread of the disease. 

Residents can report dead birds to CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory using the mortality reporting form, which helps biologists monitor the outbreak. Disposable gloves should be worn and hands should be thoroughly washed after disposing of dead birds, and handling of bird feeders and bird baths. If sick birds are found, please contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center for advice.

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Media Contacts:
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications, (916) 825-7120
Krysta Rogers, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 358-1662

Camping Reopens on CDFW Lands, State-Operated Wildlife Areas and Refuges

With the recent lifting of the Regional Stay-at-Home Order in all parts of the state, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will once again allow overnight camping on department lands, state-operated wildlife areas and federal wildlife refuges where camping is permitted, effective Monday, Feb. 1.

The reopening of camping and the overnight use of camp trailers and motorhomes will accommodate waterfowl hunters participating in the Youth Waterfowl Hunt Days Feb. 6-7 and the Veterans and Active Military Hunt Days Feb. 13-14 at wildlife areas and federal refuges in the Balance of the State, Southern San Joaquin Valley and Southern California waterfowl zones.

Non-hunting related dispersed camping on CDFW lands will once again be permitted on those specific properties that allow camping.

The California Department of Public Health Jan. 6 Travel Advisory remains in effect: Californians should avoid non-essential travel to any part of California more than 120 miles from one’s place of residence. Avoiding travel reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Waterfowl hunters are strongly encouraged to review the 2020 CDFW Wildlife Area Operational Changes due to COVID-19 webpage prior to visiting any state-operated wildlife area or refuge in order to understand all required health and safety practices in place to help protect visitors and staff. Waterfowl hunters are further advised to check with the individual property they are planning to hunt for specific entry procedures, details and other regulations.

Below are general COVID-19 safety guidelines to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus in the outdoors:

  • Stay Local: Stay close to home during this pandemic period. If you or anyone in your household is feeling sick, please remain at home and plan your trip for another time. 
  • Plan Ahead: The ongoing pandemic response continues to be dynamic. Prior to leaving home, check to ensure your destination is open, if parking is available and what visitor guidelines may be in effect.
  • Stay Safer at Six Feet: No matter the recreational activity, maintain a physical distance of six feet or more. Those camping together should only include people within your immediate household. This means no guests or friends, and no gatherings or parties.
  • Keep Clean: Be prepared as not all services may be available. Restrooms may be unavailable or closed. Bring soap/hand sanitizer. Please pack out all trash.
  • Stay Covered: The state requires you to wear a face covering when you cannot maintain a physical distance of six feet or more. Individuals must have a face covering with them at all times.

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Media Contact:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 215-3858

Black bear cub in rehab

California Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers Receive Financial Support from the State

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is directing approximately $550,000 in grant funding to 45 nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation organizations to immediately support care for injured, sick and orphaned wildlife. The funds are made available from taxpayer contributions to the Native California Wildlife Rehabilitation Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund.

“California’s injured, sick and orphaned native wildlife need our help now more than ever,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “We are proud to quickly make funds available to help these important partner organizations operate during difficult economic times.”

In 2017, Assemblymember Marie Waldron’s Assembly Bill 1031 created the Native California Wildlife Rehabilitation Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund on the state’s income tax form, and thanks to taxpayers’ generosity, more than $820,000 has been donated as of October 2020.

“I am so pleased these organizations will receive the funding they desperately deserve,” Waldron said. “Without them, California’s wildlife would suffer, which would mean we all suffer.  I’m honored to have played a role in conserving California’s abundant natural beauty.”

In 2019, these 45 organizations collectively cared for nearly 112,000 orphaned or injured wild animals, including bats, opossums, skunks, raptors, reptiles, foxes, songbirds, fawns, sea birds, coyotes, bears and many other native species.

CDFW acted swiftly to stand up the new competitive grant program to support and advance the recovery and rehabilitation of injured, sick or orphaned wildlife and conservation education. Funds may be used to support activities such as operations and ongoing facility needs, innovation in animal care (e.g., wildlife rehabilitation techniques, enclosure designs, diet and behavioral enrichment), post-release monitoring and conservation education for the public.

“The California wildlife rehabilitation community is incredibly grateful for this much-needed support,” said Rachel Avilla, president of the California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators Board of Directors. “While 2020 has certainly taken its toll on many small organizations, our commitment to helping wildlife remains strong as injured and orphaned animals continue to need our help daily. We want to thank Assemblymember Waldron and her team for pushing this landmark legislation through and CDFW for being an excellent ally. We are profoundly grateful for their continued collaboration and support to help care for California’s precious wildlife.”

Consistent with the legislation, eligible organizations were required to document their status as a nonprofit organization that operates a permitted wildlife rehabilitation facility, complies with all conditions of its Wildlife Rehabilitation Memorandum of Understanding, and maintains active participation in the Wildlife Rehabilitation Medical Database.

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Media Contact:
Clark Blanchard, CDFW Education and Outreach, (916) 591-0140

CDFW Offering Free, Physically Distanced Swan Tours This Fall and Winter

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is once again offering free swan tours in Yuba County near Marysville on select Saturdays, November through January.

Held in partnership with the Mathews Rice farming operation, this area – called District 10 – boasts the largest number of overwintering tundra swans in the Central Valley as well as abundant geese, ducks, shorebirds and raptors.

These popular, naturalist-led tours last approximately two hours and have been reconfigured to meet current COVID-19-related health and safety protocols. These safety measures include all participants and guides driving their own vehicles instead of carpooling together. Walkie talkies will be distributed to each participant vehicle to hear and communicate with the guide during the tour. Participants are required to follow all health protocols, which will be distributed upon registration.

The tour dates are:

  • Nov. 21 and 28
  • Dec. 5, 12 and 19
  • Jan. 2, 9 and 16

Tours are offered at 9:30 a.m. and at 1 p.m. on each date.

Pre-registration is required by contacting Genelle Treaster, CDFW North Central Region, at genelle.treaster@wildlife.ca.gov.

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Media Contacts:
Genelle Treaster, CDFW North Central Region, (916) 396-1518
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 215-3858

Watch out for Wildlife Week Educates Drivers about Increased Animal-Vehicle Collision Risk

Every autumn, as Daylight Saving Time concludes, the number of vehicle-wildlife collisions on California roadways increases. As drivers adjust to less daylight during the evening commute during the first week of November, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and Caltrans issue a reminder to be alert and aware of animals on the roads and highways. This year, Watch Out for Wildlife Week also falls during a historic fire season, adding additional urgency to the message.

This is the time of year that deer, elk, bears and other animals are typically on the move for migration, mating or foraging – but wildlife has 3 million fewer acres of forest to call home due to numerous fires around the state. It’s even more likely that displaced animals will be using or crossing roads and coming near traffic.

“Currently, people may be seeing diverse species of wildlife displaced due to fire,” said CDFW Conflict Programs Coordinator Vicky Monroe. “Drivers should be especially cautious driving in areas with known habitat disturbance or fire damage and be aware of wildlife that may be active near roads, such as deer, black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, birds of prey and more.”

Vehicle collisions involving wildlife can be both dangerous and costly.  According to the California Highway Patrol, in 2019, three people died and 390 people were injured in 2,204 collisions with animals on state, county and local roadways throughout California.  The UC Davis Road Ecology Center estimates the total annual cost of animal-vehicle conflicts in California to be at least $307 million in 2018.

“Safety remains our foremost priority,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin. “This includes doing our part to alert motorists of potential environmental hazards by installing flashing animal crossing warning signs and building larger culverts for safer wildlife passage over and under our roadways.”

Standard driving safety tips carry even more significance in light of habitat loss to the 2020 wildfires. These include:

  • Be extra alert when driving near areas wildlife frequent, such as streams and rivers, and reduce your speed especially around curves.
  • Don’t text and drive! Leave your phone alone; it can wait.
  • Pay extra attention driving during the morning and evening hours when wildlife are often most active.
  • If you see an animal on or near the road, know that others may be following.
  • Don’t litter. Trash and food odors can attract animals to roadways.
  • Pay attention to road shoulders. Look for movement or reflecting eyes. Slow down and honk your horn if you see an animal on or near the road.
  • Respect wildlife. California is their home too.

For any additional information on Watch out for Wildlife Week, or the messaging for California drivers, please contact either the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or Caltrans.

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Media Contacts
William Arnold, Caltrans Public Affairs, (916) 654-3633
Tim Daly, CDFW Communications, (916) 201-2958