Disease prevention

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Symptoms of common disease and tips on prevention
We occasionally get questions at the Wild Bird House where someone sees a bird that looks sick and wants to know what can be done. Here are a few relatively common feeder bird diseases that people occasionally see.

House Finch eye disease:
Affects mostly House Finches (other species to a much lesser degree). Symptoms are obvious; birds have crusty, weeping, irritated eyes and can show decreased activity. Often, only one eye is infected. Birds may also show symptoms of respiratory distress.

Avian Pox:
Affects a wide variety of bird species. Avian pox causes tumor like growths on unfeathered areas on a birds body, including the feet, bill, and around the eyes. When the eyes are infected, this disease can be difficult to distinguish from conjunctivitis. (House Finch eye disease) If there is a lump or bulge around the eye rather than uniform infection, the bird is probably suffering from avian pox. Avian pox is transmitted directly from infected individuals via a pox virus or indirectly by a mosquito.

Salmonellosis:
Affects a wide variety of species. Birds suffering from salmonellosis may appear lethargic, with fluffed feathers. Birds may also shiver and shake. House Sparrows are common victims of this disease, although each season there are different small outbreaks in a variety of species. This bacterial disease is transmitted through fecal contaminated surfaces and food.

Aspergillosis:
Affects a wide variety of species, usually birds with an already weak immune system. Aspergillosis is a fungal infection of the respiratory tract. Birds are frequently exposed to spores of the fungus, but weak birds that are exposed to numerous spores will become ill. Symptoms can be hard to discern, but birds often show respiratory distress (coughing, wheezing) and nasal discharge. Moldy seed is often the culprit for feeder birds.

Trichomoniasis:
Affects mostly pigeons and doves, and the birds that eat them. Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasitic protozoan that causes an accumulation of tissue in the mouth and esophagus. Afflicted birds will often have puffy necks and show difficulty swallowing. Pigeons and doves pass the parasite on to young during feeding.

Help prevent disease:
To help minimize the risk of disease transmission at your feeders, we recommend cleaning your feeders once a month. This is an important part of bird feeding, not only will it keep your birds healthy but it also keeps your feeders looking nice and lasting longer.

  1) Once a month let the birds empty the feeder as far as they can. Shake out any remaining seeds. Wash in a 50/50 solution of hot water and white vinegar. (some say to use a 10% bleach solution) Rinse thoroughly and refill when completely dry. Then once to twice a year (spring and fall) remove all the hardware and clean thoroughly. We carry a variety of different size brushes to make this job easy.
  2) Throw out any wet or moldy food and disinfect any containers or scoops used to handle it. If you see the seed in the feeder is not being eaten, check to see if it has become moldy or wet from rain. You should store seed in a sealed airtight container in a cool, dry place. We carry the Woodlink seed storage containers with a pour spout and handle.
  3) Rake, shovel or shop vac seed debris and droppings from under your feeders on a regular basis to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. We have several sizes of seed trays or our seed hoop that can be attached under a feeder to catch loose seed. Never feed directly on the ground. We have ground feeders that allow ground birds (doves, cardinals, jays) to eat healthy. They have removable screens that make cleaning a breeze.
  4) Discourage overcrowding at the feeders. If you only have one feeder, provide additional feeders and different kinds of feeders designed for different kinds of birds. If you have several feeders, you can space them apart.

Stop in for all your cleaning supplies and we will provide you with a Droll Yankees tip sheet on cleaning your feeder.

If you find a sick/injured bird and have questions you can call us at the store (785)273-5500. We have a federally and state permitted wildlife rehabilitator on staff.

Sources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Droll Yankees.

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