The possible spread of a disease impacting finches and other birds in Atlantic Canada has wildlife experts asking people to take down their bird feeders.
Known as trichomonosis, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) says in a blog post that recent reports of sick and dying birds could mean possible outbreaks of the disease.
The infection is a result of a parasite that infects the upper digestive tract of birds, as well as other organs including the lungs. It does not pose a risk to humans or other animals.
David Currie, president of the Nova Scotia Bird Society, says a number of birds — particularly goldfinches and purple finches — are suffering from trichomonosis and not just in this province.
“This particular disease is fatal to birds and is very contagious,” Currie said. “So it’s contracted by birds that are brought together and congregate at feeders in particular or bird baths.”
The disease is spread through food or water contaminated by saliva, regurgitated food or even bird droppings. Feeders and baths can also be potential sites, the CWHC says.
He said sick birds can appear to be motionless on the ground or show difficulty getting around. They can have a “puffed out” appearance, which is something birds commonly do during the winter but not summer. The feathers could also look matted and its eyes could appear closed.
Reports have come in about birds in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, Currie said. He said it’s widespread and he’s never seen an outbreak of “this magnitude” in 38 years of birding.
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He said they’ve had reports of cases year to year but not to this extent and believes it’s exacerbated due to the amount of summer bird feeding.
Feeding is typically done during fall and the winter to supplement food for the birds and during the summer there is plenty of food.
‘Could barely make a sound’
In Sydney, N.S., one such finch infected with the parasite was found as Tyler Day’s girlfriend Kelly Willar was checking their bird feeders on Monday evening, when a finch jumped out of the tall grass.
“It started following her and trying to like chirp at her but could barely make a sound,” he said in a phone interview.
The bird then started following Day around until they were able to get the finch in a box to take to the animal hospital.
Day took video of the bird and posted it on a Facebook group asking what to do to help the bird and he was advised about the parasite and to take his bird feeders down. He was also told to call Hope for Wildlife, an animal rehabilitation centre in Nova Scotia.
He said he was informed the bird did die the next day, but the rehab centre still collected the finch.
Prior to Monday, Day had never heard of the parasite and had never had an incident like this happen before to the between 50 to 70 gold and purple finches that make their homes on his property.
In the video provided to Global News by Day, little noise can be heard coming from the finch.
“It’s like they’re trying to breathe but their esophagus expands, so they’re short of breath,” Day said.
To limit the amount of infection, it’s advised people should remove their bird feeders and cover bird baths for the summer.
If someone finds a sick bird, it will likely die, he said. The best thing to do is find a safe place for the bird “to die on its own” and bury it, using gloves, if they want.
Currie added people should not bring the bird inside their homes to avoid passing it to any pet birds they may have.