Some birds are beautiful, some birds are terrifying, and some birds are just downright ugly, but regardless of their outer appearance, I can’t help but be a bit suspicious of birds. Not only are they descended from dinosaurs—more specifically, from the group of dinosaurs that also includes the Tyrannosaurus rex and velociraptors—but they can also fly! And they can even poop while they’re flying! It’s simply just too much power for one animal to have.
Unfortunately, my bird-related suspicions have been validated by the news that a salmonella outbreak that has affected 19 people across eight different states has been connected to contact with wild songbirds and bird feeders. Although only 19 cases have been identified so far, officials say it’s likely that the real number of cases is even higher since many people recover quickly from salmonella before being tested.
The New York Times reports that CDC public health officials interviewed 13 of the salmonella patients in order to figure out what animals they had come in contact with prior to getting sick. Nine reported owning a bird feeder, while two reported specifically having been in contact with a sick or dead bird. Ten of the patients surveyed also said that they had pets that could have come into contact with wild birds. In order to keep yourself safe, the CDC recommends cleaning bird feeders and birdbaths once a week, and avoiding feeding or handling wild birds with your bare hands.
Three of the reported salmonella cases were in California, where in February the state Department of Fish and Wildlife was reportedly “inundated with calls” from residents who had discovered sick or dead finches at bird feeders. Specifically, the type of finch most affected by the outbreak was the pine siskin, a species of bird that typically spends the winter in California. “It can happen any year, but this has been a particularly bad year,” the director of bird conservation for Audubon California told the Times. “Pine siskins are not very good at social distancing.”
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I’d imagine they’re also not the best at wearing masks—it must be so difficult to find ones customized for beaks! And let’s not even get into how tough it has to be to double mask without ears.