2 or 3 suspected cases of deadly bird disease found on P.E.I.

Although they are not confirmed, these cases have shown “the right clinical signs in the correct species,” said a wildlife pathologist.

Number is 'not necessarily reflective' of the disease's spread

Trichomoniasis can leave birds gasping for breath and unable to eat. (Submitted by Rebecca Clarke MacInnis)

Two or three suspected cases of a deadly bird disease have been reported on P.E.I., but the number is "not necessarily reflective" of how much it has spread, says a wildlife pathologist.

Dr. Laura Bourque is with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative and has been working out of the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown.

Although not confirmed to be trichomoniasis, which causes birds to have difficulty swallowing, these cases have shown "the right clinical signs in the correct species," said Bourque.

Bourque said she's not sure how much the rate of cases has changed since 2018, but "certainly last year we didn't get very many calls in from really anywhere in the Maritimes."

Bourque asks for people to contact the team at its office at the AVC to report a dead bird or a bird showing symptoms.

'Not trying to fly away'

From there, pathologists like Bourque will do a complete necropsy and a tissue analysis on the bird to determine if it actually died from trichomoniasis.

Dr. Laura Bourque works with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative. (Submitted by University of Prince Edward Island)

Bourque said people should watch for birds that seem to be gasping for breath, or seem to have feathers that have puffed up.

"Well the classic signs are birds that are on the ground, or that are very easy to approach, they are not trying to fly away."

Bourque also advises people not to touch the birds while looking for these signs.

Should you take down your bird feeder?

One of the major ways the disease spreads is through bird feeders, said Bourque.

Birds' mouths become inflamed and they will end up regurgitating back onto the feeder and the bird seed.

There is still a lot the CWHC doesn't know about the disease however, said Bourque.

"At this point in time, we can't say 100 per cent that it's going to make a big difference if you take your feeders down if you haven't seen disease on your property."

Still, once the disease is known to be in your area, it's best to take bird feeders, suet feeders and bird baths down completely, Bourque said.

Trichomoniasis affects birds like finches and siskins. Feeders like these ones, meant for finches, are made from metal and don't allow birds to sit in the bird seed. (Sean Young/CBC)

People can soon find out if the disease has been found in their area by checking a map the CWHC creates each year. Bourque said the map should be ready and available on the CWHC website next week.

Certain types of feeders can also be better than others at preventing the spread of disease, said Bourque.

Feeders made of plastic, metal or glass are better than ones made of wood or clay because they're non-porous, according to the CWHC website.

The website also advises buying feeders that don't allow birds to sit in the seed.

Bourque said the CWHC hopes to do more collaborative field research this summer with UPEI on how the spread of the disease possibly connects to climate change.

More P.E.I. news