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Warning: House Finches and Hulled Sunflower Seed (3 Viewers)

Carson

Well-known member
I'd like everyone who lives in damp places to consider this. I live in Vancouver. I think this applies to Seattle as well, and it might apply to places in England.

Hulled sunflower seed, i.e. without the protective shell, is one of the most popular bird foods used here. It is less messy than sunflower seed with the shells on.

In recent years, there have been massive die-offs of HOUSE FINCHES and PINE SISKINS, generally related to salmonella and similar problems. Now, please be careful reading this: it is well-known that Pine Siskin populations fluctuate naturally. This is beyond that.

People feeding birds see occasional dead siskins and House Finches, and they also see birds that are puffed up, and are having trouble eating. The birds remain in misery for days before they die.

Two conclusions dismiss the problem: (1) Birds die anyway, and there will always be a few dying close to feeders and other shelters. (2) My seed is clean and dry, but perhaps my neighbour is allowing her seed to become damp.

If what you have read so far is familiar to you, I would REALLY like you to re-write the last paragraph, so it reads like this:

MY bird seed is killing these birds. It may have come from the store as an already toxic feed. Or it may be that in a damp climate (such as in Vancouver) the seed is never perfectly dry. In any case, the birds are being poisoned at MY feeders--not at my neighbours'. In a good situation, conclusion (1), above, is not noticeable. The fact is: you should not be seeing sick and dying, or dead, birds.

We have implicated hulled sunflower seeds as the culprit. Again, please read this carefully. There are several red-herrings here which can easily confuse the issue.

It may be that sunflower seed stored without the shell is simply not safe. I think that is the case. The shell acts as a natural protection until the seed is eaten. When the shell is removed, the seed may be host to various moulds, EVEN WHEN THE SEED APPEARS TO BE DRY AND PROPERLY STORED.

Once the diseases are in the House Finch and Pine Siskin population, they spread with or without the seed. To perform the experiment I am about to suggest, you will need months, not weeks, to watch for results.

We tried this, and it appears to have worked. Here it is:

If you are seeing dead or sick birds, AND if you are using hulled sunflower seeds, PLEASE completely stop using the open sunflower seed altogether. Either stop feeding the birds entirely, or go back to sunflower seeds WITH THE SHELLS ON.

Two immediate reactions:

(1) No, your birdseed-supply store will not agree.

(2) Here is a red-herring, and it is both accurate, and it is suggested by people who do know their facts: "But I do NOT use hulled sunflower seeds, or else I use seed WITH the shells, and I see a few dead birds ANYway."
-- Yes, but I think there are ADDITIONAL problems here, and (2) is addressing these. I am addressing ONLY the problem of the opened sunflower seeds. It will not solve 100% of bird deaths from birds eating at feeders. It is VERY important to understand this.

What I am saying is that we believe very strongly that if you cease using hulled sunflower seeds, you will cease seeing dying birds. This probably applies only to some places. Vancouver is definitely one. Here the humidity may approach 100% on a chilly, cloudy day, throughout the year.

I have fed birds for more than 40 years. We never used to see House Finches or Pine Siskins dying--and there was no hulled sunflower seed available then.

In recent years, we saw these afflicted birds, and we thought it was someone else's doing, or else that the birds were simply susceptible to disease.

In time, we could no longer live with those beliefs. We tried everything. We changed the water, and we kept the place spotlessly clean. And then we began eliminating various kinds of food we were placing out.

The hulled sunflower seed was our own favourite, because our feeders were on a balcony of an apartment in the city. The hulled seed was the easiest to clean up after. And I believed it was very nutricious.

WHEN WE STOPPED USING IT, WE SAW NO MORE DYING OR DEAD BIRDS. The results took awhile to show, because, indeed, the disease(s) perpetuate through the bird population. But, for two years now, we have had not one single dead bird; not one single puffed-up bird.

Please try it.

My plea to you is based on testing a rather easy-to-test theory. If people wish to pursue the matter intellectually, detailing every possible exception, the birds will continue to die. This indeed is happening in many situations. What-ifs are suggested, and the issue becomes murky, and people simply say, "Well, maybe we'll just be extra sure our seed is dry."

That's not good enough.

The affected seed, I repeat, may seem to be completely dry.

If you simply try the simple substitution of sunflower seed, I believe you will see the results, within one to several months.

Because the experiment harms nothing, it is worth trying.

Actually, we have found the discarded shells are really pretty easy to sweep up. They look messy, but they are easily disposed of.

Easier to dispose of than, say, another dead House Finch.

And, I maintain this very strongly: I would rather see a healthy bird at a distance, than a dying bird close up.

Remember you are rarely doing THE BIRDS much of a favour when you feed them in climates like Vancouver's. Your feeders are popular, but they are unnecessary--you are doing yourself a favour, bringing in the birds for your own entertainment.

You folk in drier, perhaps colder climates: Hopefully, you've never seen this problem. I doubt it pertains to you.

Thank you, everyone, for reading this and considering it. Please, scientifically analytical people, understand the basic value in carrying this experiment out without having totally conclusive data first. It has all the appearances of having worked for us. And, as I said, it is a harmless experiment.

There is a great deal of harm occurring without it.

Thank you, one and all.
 
"I'd like everyone who lives in damp places to consider this. I live in Vancouver. I think this applies to Seattle as well, and it might apply to places in England.

Hulled sunflower seed, i.e. without the protective shell, is one of the most popular bird foods used here. It is less messy than sunflower seed with the shells on.

In recent years, there have been massive die-offs of HOUSE FINCHES and PINE SISKINS, generally related to salmonella and similar problems."

Snipped

It's a wee bit more complicated than that. I will scan and post the latest findings tonight. Birds are dying from Salmonella and Ecoli and, as yet, no link has been found with either Sunflower seeds, in or out of the shells, or Peanuts, in or out of the shells. This year, we have had birds dying in Aberdeenshire, Sunflower seeds being fed to them. The birds were tested, and the commonest strain of Salmonela found, the sunflower seed was tested, and none of the cultures showed any signs of Salmonella or Ecoli. The scientists know that these problems are already in the birds, but the source has not been found from the tests which have been carried out so far.

Personally, I will not use Sunflower seed, but that's my preference through experience.

Malky @ Westhill
 
Yes, not the natural way birds fluff up their feathers. You can see right away that something is wrong.
 
I'd very much like to know what some of our more experienced/expert members think of this important topic. The thought had occurred to me that sunflower 'hearts' (getting to be a very popular feed nowadays) are likely to be prone to mould (depending very much on how they are stored), and therefore become toxic to the birds that feed on them. In the same way that we have to be careful about storing peanuts so that they don't get mouldy, don't we need to be just as cautious with the shelled sunflowers? I imagine a lot of people store their bird feed in a garage and maybe not even in closed containers, thus making it prone to getting damp and mouldy.

Alan Hill
 
This is an interesting discussion. Here in the States, we have a finch disease(conjunctivitis) that affects the eyes and can eventually blind the bird. I personally have had this disease show up at my feeders and I even had a cardinal with something that looked like the disease. Cornell University is doing a study on it. The symptoms sound different than what you describe, but I appreciate the warning about the hulled seeds. I never used them, and I don't intend to start.
 
If there's anything in the theory, it must come down to poor quality seeds or bad storage at home (or both). I've been putting out (in hanging feeders) a mix which is heavy on sunflower hearts for eight months now. The same birds keep eating it, and they keep coming back, and they keep looking healthy. I've never seen a dead bird around here (apart from the odd middle-of-road feral pigeon), and certainly no blown-up ill ones. I keep the stuff in a sealed container in a dry place, mind you (same thing with the peanuts).
 
People here think the seed (here) may be toxic even before it is sold. Storage in the home seems not to be a factor.

London is very damp, isn't it? I would think the climate is not dissimilar to Vancouver's. On the other hand, you have neither House Finches nor Pine Siskins. Those two species seem to be the only ones affected by this particular problem. Goldfinches, so far, have not been reported ill or dying. (Neither have any species which are quite different.)
 
I'd like everyone who lives in damp places to consider this. I live in Vancouver. I think this applies to Seattle as well, and it might apply to places in England.

Hulled sunflower seed, i.e. without the protective shell, is one of the most popular bird foods used here. It is less messy than sunflower seed with the shells on.

In recent years, there have been massive die-offs of HOUSE FINCHES and PINE SISKINS, generally related to salmonella and similar problems. Now, please be careful reading this: it is well-known that Pine Siskin populations fluctuate naturally. This is beyond that.

People feeding birds see occasional dead siskins and House Finches, and they also see birds that are puffed up, and are having trouble eating. The birds remain in misery for days before they die.

Two conclusions dismiss the problem: (1) Birds die anyway, and there will always be a few dying close to feeders and other shelters. (2) My seed is clean and dry, but perhaps my neighbour is allowing her seed to become damp.

If what you have read so far is familiar to you, I would REALLY like you to re-write the last paragraph, so it reads like this:

MY bird seed is killing these birds. It may have come from the store as an already toxic feed. Or it may be that in a damp climate (such as in Vancouver) the seed is never perfectly dry. In any case, the birds are being poisoned at MY feeders--not at my neighbours'. In a good situation, conclusion (1), above, is not noticeable. The fact is: you should not be seeing sick and dying, or dead, birds.

We have implicated hulled sunflower seeds as the culprit. Again, please read this carefully. There are several red-herrings here which can easily confuse the issue.

It may be that sunflower seed stored without the shell is simply not safe. I think that is the case. The shell acts as a natural protection until the seed is eaten. When the shell is removed, the seed may be host to various moulds, EVEN WHEN THE SEED APPEARS TO BE DRY AND PROPERLY STORED.

Once the diseases are in the House Finch and Pine Siskin population, they spread with or without the seed. To perform the experiment I am about to suggest, you will need months, not weeks, to watch for results.

We tried this, and it appears to have worked. Here it is:

If you are seeing dead or sick birds, AND if you are using hulled sunflower seeds, PLEASE completely stop using the open sunflower seed altogether. Either stop feeding the birds entirely, or go back to sunflower seeds WITH THE SHELLS ON.

Two immediate reactions:

(1) No, your birdseed-supply store will not agree.

(2) Here is a red-herring, and it is both accurate, and it is suggested by people who do know their facts: "But I do NOT use hulled sunflower seeds, or else I use seed WITH the shells, and I see a few dead birds ANYway."
-- Yes, but I think there are ADDITIONAL problems here, and (2) is addressing these. I am addressing ONLY the problem of the opened sunflower seeds. It will not solve 100% of bird deaths from birds eating at feeders. It is VERY important to understand this.

What I am saying is that we believe very strongly that if you cease using hulled sunflower seeds, you will cease seeing dying birds. This probably applies only to some places. Vancouver is definitely one. Here the humidity may approach 100% on a chilly, cloudy day, throughout the year.

I have fed birds for more than 40 years. We never used to see House Finches or Pine Siskins dying--and there was no hulled sunflower seed available then.

In recent years, we saw these afflicted birds, and we thought it was someone else's doing, or else that the birds were simply susceptible to disease.

In time, we could no longer live with those beliefs. We tried everything. We changed the water, and we kept the place spotlessly clean. And then we began eliminating various kinds of food we were placing out.

The hulled sunflower seed was our own favourite, because our feeders were on a balcony of an apartment in the city. The hulled seed was the easiest to clean up after. And I believed it was very nutricious.

WHEN WE STOPPED USING IT, WE SAW NO MORE DYING OR DEAD BIRDS. The results took awhile to show, because, indeed, the disease(s) perpetuate through the bird population. But, for two years now, we have had not one single dead bird; not one single puffed-up bird.

Please try it.

My plea to you is based on testing a rather easy-to-test theory. If people wish to pursue the matter intellectually, detailing every possible exception, the birds will continue to die. This indeed is happening in many situations. What-ifs are suggested, and the issue becomes murky, and people simply say, "Well, maybe we'll just be extra sure our seed is dry."

That's not good enough.

The affected seed, I repeat, may seem to be completely dry.

If you simply try the simple substitution of sunflower seed, I believe you will see the results, within one to several months.

Because the experiment harms nothing, it is worth trying.

Actually, we have found the discarded shells are really pretty easy to sweep up. They look messy, but they are easily disposed of.

Easier to dispose of than, say, another dead House Finch.

And, I maintain this very strongly: I would rather see a healthy bird at a distance, than a dying bird close up.

Remember you are rarely doing THE BIRDS much of a favour when you feed them in climates like Vancouver's. Your feeders are popular, but they are unnecessary--you are doing yourself a favour, bringing in the birds for your own entertainment.

You folk in drier, perhaps colder climates: Hopefully, you've never seen this problem. I doubt it pertains to you.

Thank you, everyone, for reading this and considering it. Please, scientifically analytical people, understand the basic value in carrying this experiment out without having totally conclusive data first. It has all the appearances of having worked for us. And, as I said, it is a harmless experiment.

There is a great deal of harm occurring without it.

Thank you, one and all.
 
I have noticed that the hulled sunflower seed turns a bit darker when it's out of the bag and in the feeders. I recently read that sunflower seed goes rancid very quickly once out of the hull. The birds and I liked the hulled seed, but I'm going back to the
hulls, mess and all.
 
I think we experienced this with some goldfinches, as well. The hulled sunflower seeds were old. It's not worth the risk. We're now only using non-hulled.
 
The problem with Pine Siskins - they are little pigs and eat too much seed. They eat so much in one sitting at our feeders that they cant fly away, making them targets for the Sharp Shin that visits from time to time. The Coopers we have don't seem to bother the Finches or Pine Siskins. They target the Doves.

In the summer we feed with a mix of hulled and whole sun flower seeds. In the winter we switch to shells only and clean feeders every two days.
 
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