Deadly bird infection continues to spread in Atlantic Canada

A highly contagious infection is spreading through finch populations in Atlantic Canada and experts are asking for the public's help to stop the spread of the disease.

'I've not seen anything even remotely close to this,' says president of Nova Scotia Bird Society

This purple finch is showing signs of trichomoniasis, including wet feathers from spitting up food. (Sheryl and Doug Wilson/The Canadian Veterinary Journal)

A highly contagious infection is spreading through finch populations in Atlantic Canada and experts are asking for the public's help to stop the spread of the disease.

The problem is the avian parasite trichomoniasis, which leads to an infection in the throats of birds, making them unable to swallow. 

Dave Currie, president of the Nova Scotia Bird Society, said the infection is among the worst he's seen in his nearly 40 years of observing birds in Nova Scotia.

"I've not seen anything even remotely close to this," he said. 

"We're getting reports from all over the province from people who are seeing these very sick and lethargic purple finches and goldfinches in their yards. So it's not something that is normal. It's something we're really watching carefully."

How to stop the spread

The microscopic parasite affects mainly finches, goldfinches and purple finches in Atlantic Canada. Nova Scotia and P.E.I. populations are being hit especially hard. Affected birds look skinny and have ruffled plumage.

This infected finch gasped for breath on Tyler Day's and Kelly Willar's lawn in Cape Breton. (Still of video from Tyler Day)

In order to stop the spread, Currie said people should take down their feeders and bird baths, clean them with a diluted bleach solution and put them away for the summer. 

Finches tend to flock in larger groups, making them more susceptible to the infection. But Currie warns that all birds can contract the disease.

"It doesn't just affect these finches. Any bird that would come to the feeder after the finches have left, let's say, could easily get exposed to this as well, same with the bird baths," he said.

Pet birds can also be infected

Currie warns the parasite can also spread to pet birds like budgies and parrots, as well as to birds of prey like hawks and eagles who feed on infected birds.

"It isn't going to hurt humans or your pet cat or your dog but it will affect the birds that you may have as pets," he said.

Currie said if you see a sick bird, you can report it to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative.

With files from Paul Palmeter