If you’ve seen sick wild birds in your garden, especially ones who are lethargic, unusually tame seeming or fluffed up, then you need to take action.
The most likely cause is trichomoniasis, which is a parasite that causes lesions in the affected bird’s throat, making it difficult for it to swallow. Eventually, the bird dies because the lesions affect its ability to breathe. These birds often also have saliva and uneaten food stuck to their beaks and fronts.
Finches – goldfinches, greenfinches, and chaffinches – seem to be the most susceptible to this parasite, but it can affect any bird. It doesn’t pass to humans, cats or dogs.
Other diseases can include salmonellae, outbreaks of which can also be helped by following the advice below.
To stop the spread of disease, you should immediately stop providing food and water for the birds for a few weeks.
This is because a bird feeding or drinking station is a breeding ground for the bacteria – healthy birds may get ill from sharing a food source with sick birds.
To prevent initial infection, or reinfection, keep your bird feeders clean. Because you’ll have to regularly clean the feeders it’s worth buying ones that are easy to take apart and clean thoroughly, such as Jacobi Jayne Ring Pull feeders. I’ve thrown away more feeders than I can count simply because I couldn’t clean them properly. The Ring Pull ones are the best I’ve found to solve this. Take them apart, scrub every part with disinfectant, then thoroughly dry them before refilling them. You can even put the tubes through the dishwasher if you’re feeling very lazy…!
Also ensure that the feeder area is not contaminated. Bird faeces and saliva can both carry disease, so the ideal solution is to have a flat concrete pad below the feeder. This makes it easy to sweep up regularly and scrub it when needed. The other benefit to this is that you can see if birds are wasting food and clear up anything that’s not being eaten, thus reducing the risk of rodents blagging free meals from you. If you are getting a lot of wasted food, consider using a different seed mix which is more suited to the kind of birds you have in your garden. Many seed mixes are filled with cheap wheat and barley, which small birds are not interested in. Try a value mix like Island Harvest, or a premium mix such as Garden Gourmet.
If a concrete base isn’t an option, try to rotate where your feeder is sited, to help stop any infection from building up. The trichomoniasis parasite doesn’t live long outside of the host, so will die if there are no birds to pass on to.
Finally, for your own health remember to wash your hands after feeding the birds or touching the feeders.