Common Redpoll Deaths Reported

We have had more than one call from people who are finding dead Redpolls near their feeders.  I’ve done some emailing and calling around to see if the experts know anything definitive.

Common Redpoll

Redpolls are known as an “irruptive” species, which means we don’t see them every year; they irrupt onto the scene every couple of years. This is one of those years. While people are enjoying seeing this friendly, colorful little bird, sadly, they are also seeing many deaths.

A certain amount of mortality is to be expected over the winter, however people are seeing as many as 8 at a time under their feeders. I wrote to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to see if there is a known cause. Here is their reply:

To this point I have been relaying our best practices for keeping the feeders sanitized (take down, sanitize, let sit for a few days before putting them back up), and also that, because of the abundance of the species at feeders this year, the chance of diseases common in the species, such as Salmonellosis, naturally increases:

Beyond that, I am not sure where we are on this issue. I have copied the folks at FeederWatch to see if they can add anything—I am not aware of any information about current pathogens, but when researching the issue I did find this info from 2005—so it is not the first time…

I hope this helps—please keep in touch if you discover anything!

If I hear anything else, I’ll post it here! Thank you for your concern for our feathered friends.

~ Jennifer Schlick, Program Director

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2 Responses to Common Redpoll Deaths Reported

  1. I received the following from Cornell on 2/25/2013:

    “The possible causes of death are many, but it is most alarming that you have found several deceased under your feeders.

    There was a confirmed situation of huge quantities of tainted Scotts bird seed, manufactured by the notorious Monsanto pesticide company. Some more info is here:

    If you do not use Scotts bird seed, it is possible that this is a case of Salmonella poisoning. More info on how this can happen and what to do, here:

    Another possibility is that birds are dying of conjunctivitis, but that is more obvious due to the visible nature of that type of infection:

    Finally, if your feeders are situated near very clean windows that mirror a perception of nearby trees to birds at the feeders, your birds may be striking the windows when they are spooked and take flight en masse, with some dying from head injuries upon impact with windows. More info is here:

    If you have any deceased birds, you can place them in a Zip-Loc bag with enclosed date/location found information and your contact information, all written on a piece of paper, preferably using pencil (ink will run). These can be temporarily stored in your freezer until you can take them to a place such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for evaluation. Ultimately they would be prepared as research/study skins at the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates collection, housed inside the Lab of Ornithology. The front desk at the Lab of Ornithology will receive frozen specimens (607-254-BIRD – 607-254-2473).

    Lastly, if you have a surviving bird, place the individual in a small closed cardboard box with breathing holes. Place the box in a quiet, dark and warm room in your house. This will allow the bird some time to rest and possibly recover. If the bird appears to have recovered and seems capable of flight after a few hours of rest, releasing the bird into the wild is a viable option. If the bird still appears lethargic or unusually fluffed up and non-responsive, the bird should be transported to your nearest wildlife rehabilitator ( or it may be taken to the Cornell University Veterinary School’s Wildlife Clinic. You can find out more information about the Wildlife Clinic by calling 607-253-3060. During normal working hours, you will be directed to take the animal to the Hungerford Hill location, just off Ellis Hollow Road, located to the East of Ithaca, NY. Outside normal working hours, the bird should be taken directly to the Cornell Vet School main location on the Eastern section of Cornell University Campus.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY: Please wash your hands immediately after touching any sick, injured, or deceased bird. Birds may be carriers of infectious diseases that can cause humans to become ill. Don’t be alarmed, just use common sense, wash your hands and clean off any surfaces that may have come into contact with the bird(s).”

  2. We received word from one of our friends who reported dead Redpolls at her feeder. She was able to take specimens to the DEC for analysis and they did indeed come back positive for Salmonella. Here is her email:

    This morning got a phone call from the DEC lab in Delmar that confirmed the redpolls I collected had died from salmonella. If you are interested in speaking to this lab man, his name is Joe Okoniewski at 518 478-3038. Clearly he has seen this before, typical in redpolls and siskins, and UNcommonly in goldfinches. So, for now I will keep my feeders empty. The redpolls should be headed north soon and I can rake up under the feeders when the snow melts off.

    To prevent the spread, follow Cornell’s suggestions for safe feeding:

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