Wednesday, September 8, 2010

House Finch Conjunctivitis

This poor little house finch has been hanging around our feeder area for long periods of time. It doesn't fly well and doesn't startle when we come outside -- just sits quietly. I was able to get quite close to take these photos. It appears to have an eye infection that is well known in house finches.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the condition:
Infected birds have red, swollen, runny, or crusty eyes; in extreme cases the eyes become swollen shut or crusted over, and the birds become essentially blind.  Birds in this condition obviously have trouble feeding.  You might see them staying on the ground, under the feeder, trying to find seeds.  If the infected bird dies, it is usually not from the conjunctivitis itself, but rather from starvation, exposure, or predation as a result of not being able to see.
Although infected birds have swollen eyes, the disease is primarily a respiratory infection. It is caused by a unique strain of the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum, which is a common pathogen in domestic turkeys and chickens. The infection poses no known health threat to humans, and had not been reported in songbirds prior to this outbreak. Researchers at various institutions are currently trying to learn more about the transmission, genetics, and development of this disease.

Conjunctivitis was first noticed in House Finches during the winter of 1993-94 in Virginia and Maryland. The disease later spread to states along the East Coast, and has now been reported throughout most of eastern North America, as far north as Quebec, Canada, and as far south as Florida. It has also appeared in some species other than House Finches.

Advice from the Cornell Lab for people observing infected birds at their feeders:
  1. Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding.
  2. Clean your feeders on a regular basis with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) and be sure to remove any build-ups of dirt around the food openings. Allow your feeders to dry completely before rehanging them.
  3. Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
  4. If you see one or two diseased birds, take your feeder down immediately and clean it with a 10% bleach solution.
 I'm going to follow this advice!

No comments: