In the column Since You Asked in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our March-April 2017 issue:
I caught my dog eating seed under the bird feeders. I stopped her right away, but how concerned should I be? — Bowie Fox, La Crescent, Minnesota
Reports of pet dogs (and even coyotes) consuming bird seed are not uncommon. Fresh seed probably won’t cause too much harm unless it is eaten in large quantities. Old or damp seed, however, can easily harbor molds and fungi, which in turn may produce mycotoxins. One of the most widespread is aflatoxin, and it is not unusual for spoiled bird feed — especially if it includes corn or peanuts — to contain aflatoxin. The chemical is harmful and sometimes fatal to birds and can be detrimental to pets and humans as well.
If canines eat seed under feeders, they are likely to eat bird droppings as well. Feces may contain any number of bacteria or protozoan parasites that can be passed on to pets; salmonella is likely the most frequent. Some of these infections can cause minor illnesses; others may lead to fairly serious bouts of diarrhea and vomiting.
Simple precautions will minimize risks to birds, pets, and you: Always stock your feeders with fresh seed. (I recommend purchasing it from wild bird stores that have high turnover.) Keep your feeders clean, and sanitize them regularly. And clean up spilled seeds and hulls from under the feeders. — Julie Craves
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.
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