Trichomoniasis killing Island finches
Finches spreading parasite through backyard feeders
Some of the Island's finches are dying of starvation right beside backyard feeders filled with the food they crave. The birds' throats are being blocked by a parasite called trichomoniasis.
They're trying to swallow, they can't swallow.- Maria Forzan, wildlife pathologist
"You get a lot of inflammation, a lot of swelling, you get these nodules, they're like white nodules," explained wildlife pathologist Maria Forzan of the Atlantic Veterinary College.
"They are so big they block the way of the food, they block the esophagus of the bird stops being able to swallow."
Forzan has completed 14 necropsies on finches from the Island this year, more than she usually does. The birds have been collected by wildlife officers in both eastern and western P.E.I.
Parasite spread through bird feeders
The dead birds are found mostly around backyard feeders, where they're trying to get to food.
However, those feeders are also the reason the parasite is spread to other finches.
"They're trying to swallow, they can't swallow, they bring it back up and with that goes the parasite — so the thrichomoniasis that causes the disease," said Forzan.
"The other birds end up taking that regurgitated food and getting infected."
Starving but not skinny
People with backyard feeders can find out quickly if they have infected birds, as they look quite different from healthy finches.
"They are very puffed up, very sick, very lethargic," said Forzan, adding that in most cases the finches are so tired they won't fly away if approached.
Right now the parasite is hitting two species of finches on the Island — the purple finch, which is red in colour, and the American Goldfinch which is a smaller gold-coloured bird.
The best way to stop the parasite from spreading is to take in your bird feeders until fall. That way the finches won't gather in groups, which reduces the chance they'll spread the deadly disease.
Forzan said throwing remaining birdseed into the garbage and washing your feeders in a bleach and water solution will also keep the finches safe.
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