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Parasite killing birds in the Maritimes

Disease is easily spread through bird feeders and baths, removal recommended

Published on July 27, 2017

Bird-watcher Vicki Daley has taken down her birdfeeders and is going to clean them before placing them in storage. She suggests that everyone do the same.

A disease affecting birds is spreading across the Maritimes, which has experts calling for the removal of feeders.

The disease, known as trichomoniasis, is a contagious parasite that prevents birds from swallowing by inflammation of the throat. Finches, which commonly use bird feeders, are most affected by the disease.

The disease spreads through the bird’s bodily fluids, which can easily get into food and water consumed by other birds.

Vicki Daley, a local birdwatcher, is very concerned.

You’re not only dealing with killing the parasite and getting rid of that kind of plaque buildup, but then you’re dealing with those secondary issues of what’s actually killing the bird.

Pam Novak

“I had sort of heard of this disease before, but as something that rarely happened,” said Daley. “As soon as I heard that it was becoming a very serious situation, my feeders came down. I really encourage everybody to bring their feeders in for the summer.”

Birds can find plenty of natural food without bird feeders in the summer.

Pam Novak of the Atlantic Wildlife Institute agrees with Daley that feeders should be taken down. She suggests that they be washed, then disinfected and stored away.

According to Novak, a sick bird can be identified if it seems lethargic, puffed up, has runny eyes or has its mouth open trying to breathe. She says that means it may have trouble drinking water or may be regurgitating its food.

A bird can be treated in the early stages if taken to a facility like the institute, but not much can be done once the disease has progressed.

“You’re not only dealing with killing the parasite and getting rid of that kind of plaque buildup, but then you’re dealing with those secondary issues of what’s actually killing the bird,” said Novak. “Like the starvation and dehydration that comes with it because they’re not able to eat and drink properly.”

Dead birds will often be found near feeders and trees, and this is because they are seeking coverage from prey while in a vulnerable state.

Those who find dead birds can bury it, but Novak recommends that they help researchers by submitting it to Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative Atlantic in Charlottetown.

“The more specimens, the more that they can get in, the better that they can confirm that this is what it is or if it is something else, or if it’s a combination of things that are happening. It’s their job and their mandate to really find out what’s happening.”

Daley recommends also regularly cleaning birdbaths or covering them up.

“The congregation of birds in one spot is encouraging the spread of the disease,” said Daley. “And people should do all that they can to prevent that environment.”

Daley is still seeing bird feeders around. She wants people to become aware and take them down.

“Birders are very concerned about the situation,” said Daley. “When you see some of the pictures online of what the parasite does to the bird, then you just say, ‘No, there’s no way I can do that.’”