I’ve heard more than one person tell me that as a chicken owner, I shouldn’t have wild bird feeders in my yard. But I never really thought that there was much of a problem there, I mean birds are birds right?
Recently, however, I finally got an explanation from a vet that made sense enough for me to never put another wild bird feeder in my yard as long as we keep our chickens. Basically what the vet said was that when it comes to flyover birds, there are some good studies done in the last 10-15 years showing that wild birds can spread disease- (she didn’t have the citations at her fingertips) and that the bird feeder crowd may be singularly responsible for a large spike in Salmonella carriage among songbirds. Amazingly, someone had even told her that the “Wild Bird Store” near a Trader Joes, catering to this crowd actually had a handout on this very issue because it was so prevalent.
Update: Whew! I hit a bit of a sore spot with this one. Listen, I know that many people love their feeders and wild birds, this may not be pleasant information to hear.
My intent for this article was to pass on information I had gotten in a conversation with a trusted vet regarding bird feeders and chickens. Because of my background as a microbiologist, I am already familiar with Salmonella in wild birds and it certainly makes sense that if you invite a group of birds into your yard, you are increasing the risk of contamination to those birds (and animals) who may wander on the ground under the feeder.
For those who want additional information: here are the USDA biosecurity guidelines for chickens (they mention to keep wild birds away from your flock)
Here is information on Salmonella in wildbirds from the Mass Audubon. (note they say that this is more of a problem in the winter than in the warmer months)
The is an article on a Salmonella outbreak in the Bay Area where they specifically point to bird feeders as a culprit in the outbreak
This link from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center explains how to clean and manage feeders to control Salmonella outbreaks
I certainly look forward to what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has to say about this subject.
Photo credit: Marcel “Madjo” de Jong
I write about lessons learned living with children and chickens in New Hampshire. You can follow our family’s stories at my blog: Lessons Learned From the Flock.