Bring out the bird feeders: deadly parasite outbreak likely over

The head of the Nova Scotia Bird Society says it's safe for people across the Atlantic region to set up their bird feeders once again as the threat of a deadly bird parasite has likely passed.

Experts say trichomoniasis killed significantly more birds than the official toll of 106

Trichomoniasis is spread by the bird itself, affecting its throat and upper digestive tract. (Sheryl and Doug Wilson/The Canadian Veterinary Journal)

The head of the Nova Scotia Bird Society says it's safe for people across the Atlantic region to set up their bird feeders once again as the threat of a deadly bird parasite has likely passed. 

"We've had a few days of really cold weather and I think most of the parasites have probably perished, or at least they're not active at this point," said Dave Currie.

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative received reports of 106 dead birds this year, likely killed by trichomoniasis, a parasite that renders birds unable to swallow. But those are just the official reports, it's believed the number of birds that died in the outbreak is significantly higher.

The last reported bird deaths in Nova Scotia were found two weeks ago, said Currie.

Finches hit hardest

Throughout the summer, reports of deaths came in from every corner of the region, sparking bird experts to ask people to take down their bird feeders and bird baths.

The parasite largely affects finches, which are social birds. Infected birds have difficulty swallowing, often regurgitating parasite-ridden food that can contaminate feeders and bird baths.

"Anywhere I've been going in the last month where I've expected to see purple finches, I'm not. So there could be any number of reasons for that ... but normally I would see purple finches in the area and we just don't have them now," said Currie.

Now that the temperatures are dropping, bird feeders can serve their purpose, providing food when the birds actually need it.

"What we're suggesting to people is if they could start a little [more] cautiously than normal and put one or two feeders out and see how it goes and keep an eye out for any birds that may be sick by the feeder," said Currie.

Keep feeders clean

If people didn't clean their feeders when they took them down, Currie said they can wipe the feeders in diluted bleach, and then make sure they're dry before they set them out.

He said it's important to keep the feeders clean in the winter as well.

As for trichomoniasis, the parasite has been reported in the region for a decade now, and Currie expects it to return next year when the weather warms up.

He's hopeful that people will take down their feeders again when that happens to help ensure the situation isn't as severe as it was this year.