Take your feeders down say experts — sick birds showing signs of disease

After being able to get unusually close to the birds visiting her backyard feeders, Amy Seymour of Mount Stewart, P.E.I., says she knew something was wrong.

Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative receiving reports of sick birds

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

Wildlife experts are asking people across P.E.I. to take down their bird feeders right now to prevent the spread of a disease that affects finches and siskins.

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, located at the Atlantic Veterinary College, has received some reports of sick and dying birds on the Island and in Nova Scotia in the past month. 

Wildlife technician Fiep de Bie said the birds have been seen in Dundas and Mount Stewart, but the cooperative has yet to receive any specimens this year from P.E.I. to test so they can confirm what appears to be trichomoniasis. The wildlife health cooperative received two purple finches from the Windsor, N.S. area in June. Testing for trichomoniasis and cause of death is pending on these cases. 

So far this year there have been no confirmed cases.

Fourteen necropsies were done on Island finches last year as of August. Trichomoniasis was first documented in wild birds in Atlantic Canada in 2007, and it has been encountered regularly in the purple finch and American goldfinch populations in the region since that time.

The reason for the emergence of the disease in finches is uncertain and the parasite that causes the disease in birds does not pose a health threat to humans or other mammals such as dogs and cats according to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative. Captive poultry and pet birds can be infected with the parasite.

de Bie said they want people to look for signs of the disease and let the fish and wildlife department know so it can pick them up to be tested. 

"The birds usually look very lethargic and they usually have some debris around their mouth. And, their feathers are matted and wet and because they can't really swallow and they regurgitate their food," said de Bie. 

"It's a disease that really affects their mouth and their esophagus, so there's an inflammation there and they can't really swallow their food so they bring it back up. And, that's also the way this disease is actually transmitted to other birds, because they regurgitate their food so it will go back into the feeder."

'Fat and fluffy'

After being able to get unusually close to the birds visiting her backyard feeders, Amy Seymour of Mount Stewart, P.E.I., says she knew something was wrong. 

A couple of weeks ago she started noticing birds at her feeder, specifically the finches and siskin "looked either really fat and fluffy or really skinny and a lot of them appeared to have swollen eyes and just generally sort of lethargic," said Seymour. 

Amy Seymour took this photo of birds in her backyard in Mount Stewart which appear to be showing signs of trichomoniasis. (Amy Seymour)

After speaking with wildlife technicians and veterinarians, Seymour was advised to remove the feeders. When she shared what she learned on Facebook, Seymour began hearing from others who were seeing the same thing. 

"Us, personally and our neighbours have taken down our feeders. We are of course seeing fewer birds now but hopefully we've done the right thing." 

Seymour said she had no idea backyard feeding during the summer could harm the small birds. 

"Once you see one of these birds, you know it's a sick bird. And nobody wants to do something to make an animal sick or cause it pain."

More information on the disease can be found on the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative's website.