We have been getting an increasing number of Trichomoniasis related calls at this time of year. Every year outbreaks are seen during the late summer and autumn. This disease does not pose a threat to the health of humans, cats or dogs.
Greenfinches are reported most frequently, but potentially any bird can be infected, including pigeons and doves and some birds of prey. The trichomonad parasite lives in the upper digestive tract of the bird, and its actions progressively block the bird’s throat making it unable to swallow food, thus killing it by starvation.
The infection is spread as birds feed one another with regurgitated food during the breeding season, and through food and drinking water contaminated with regurgitated saliva. Saliva can also contaminate a birdbath. Trichomoniasis cannot live long outside a host.
Trichomoniasis causes lesions in the throat of the infected bird, which makes it progressively harder for the bird to swallow its food, and eventually breathe. Birds will also show signs of lethargy and fluffed up plumage, drooling saliva and regurgitated food. Affected birds frequently have matted wet plumage around the face and beak and uneaten food in and around the beak.
If a number of birds show symptoms, we recommend to stop putting out all food and leave bird baths dry for at least three weeks. This helps to disperse the feeding birds and reduce the contact between sick and healthy individuals, thus slowing down the outbreak. The higher the concentration of birds at a feeding station, the greater the chance of another bird picking up an infected food particle and exposing itself to the infection.
There are also a few other actions you can take to help:
- Use feeders with drainage holes to avoid moisture building up
- Use more than one feeding site to reduce the number of birds in one place
- Rotate feeders around several locations to ‘rest’ each spot to prevent build up of infection on the ground underneath.
- Clean and disinfect feeders and water baths regularly, rinsing thoroughly and allowing to air dry completely – this itself will kill some diseases
- Keep the bucket and brush you clean feeders with outside and using just for this purpose
- Sweep up droppings and spilt or old food and disposing of it carefully in an outside bin
- Change the water in baths frequently – ideally daily
- Wash your hands carefully afterwards
No effective treatment can be administered to birds in the wild, because it is impossible to ensure that the infected individuals receive an adequate dose and that healthy birds do not pick up the medicine.
It is always advisable to practise good hygiene around feeding stations and bird baths - Wild birds can be affected by a variety of diseases, and deaths of garden birds may be caused by other organisms such as Salmonellae. Products like Ark-Klens and Ring Pull Feeders are a good way of keeping good hygiene, they are available from our online store or our catalogue on 08451 200 501.
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Thank you for the warning! I use CitroSan by Vetark on a daily basis and actually follow these guidelines as my standard feeding regime.
This past March I found a dead adult starling under my bush and as the body was still warm, I prepared it for postmortem. There were no physical signs of disease (vet suspected old age) but the vet took and stored samples for histopathology should I discover any futher deaths. The only encounter was 1.5 weeks ago when I observed the ill-health (respiratory impairment) of a junenile starling (regular visitor to my garden feeders) over a period of four to three days. I kept a very careful eye on him and was around at the point of death. I have seen birds with Trichomoniasis (the mites have known to bore through the trachea) and the symptoms of this juvenile were not typical of this disease. I did not have a postmortem done, so I am none the wiser as to cause of death.
I will mention here that my regular bird food supplier, who is also a gardner, was finding dead birds in people gardens during the very hot weather. One possible cause for this is dehydration as many people fail to put out drinking water for garden birds.
We have had many losses from the parasite in this area and I was told to remove my feeders for 2 weeks to break the cycle however when I put them back yesterday the first bird I saw on them was a very sick young greenfinch. So I have removed them again.
A neighbour of mine, he lives half a mile away, said yesterday that he has picked up over a dozen dead birds in his garden in the last 3 weeks, he has removed his feeders but his next door neighbour flatly refuses to stop feeding in their garden so presumably the primary reservoir of disease is currently there.
I have been told that the main carriers of the Trichomoniasis parasite are pigeons which have become very common around here, is that true?
Is there any treatment that can be given? It is awful to see so many dead birds, mostly greenfinches but also other finches.
This is tragic, as it is a dreadful disease that causes great suffering. In my opinion, I don't believe you will erradicate this disease by removing feeders. Good hygienge and using a product like CitroSan in drinking/bathing water from www.vetark.co.uk helps prevent the spread of disease, including Trichom. I use F10c disinfectant regularly. I have had two collared doves with trichom - I sought vet treatment after catching up one of them and then took him/her to a wildlife centre but the disease was too far advanced and he died the moment he reached the wildlife centre. The other one disappeared off my radar.
I haven't taken my feeders away, not by any form of ignorance, but because I practice a strict hygiene regime - I power-wash my feeding area once a week and clean up bird mess/debri every evening and then spray the slab floor with F10c disinfectant at an appropriate solution (it is biogradable and very safe for the avian). and I do watch all the birds carefully, which are quite a few mixed species with a few pigeons and doves.
It is believed that pigeons are the carriers but further research fails to substantiate this. It's just that the disease was more prevalent in pigeons due to their heavy flock gatherings, but the original source very well may have and still come from privately kept racing pigeon lofts where the husbandry was/is very poor. This disease is commonly known as 'Canker' in columbiforms (pigeons and doves).
Some people use a trichom medication called Spartrix (edited by RSPB moderators) crush one tablet per drinking water vessel and repeat for 3 to 5 days. This is hit and miss treatment, but as there seems to be a trichom epidemic, it might be the only way to alleviate/contain this terrible disease and at best erradicate it within the locality.
I love birds, pigeons, doves and corvids included, and thus do not bear any discrimination between them. They are all potential victims to one of the most horrid prevalent avian diseases around, but it is treatable if not too far advanced.
Best wishes ~ Starlinga
Just a few points to clarify here. We understand that this disease is horrific to witness and that people want to do all they can to help. However some actions, which even with the best intentions, are going to do more harm than good.
You should never put any form of medicine into bird baths. Trichomonosis is impossible to treat in the wild bird population as you cannot control the dose or even the species that is exposed to it. Putting medicine in a bird bath means that any bird using it, sick or not is exposed to it, potentially putting them at risk. The only way medicine can be effectively administred to wild birds is if they are caught in time to treat with a specific dosage. There are no licensed medications available for the use in wild populations because of the potential impacts to non-target birds. If you are able to catch a sick bird that is showing signs of the Trichomonosis disease, seek the advice of a vet as treating a single bird in captivity may be possible but should be carried out under the guidance of a veterinary professional. Because of this we have edited the previous post slightly.
If you find a sick or dead bird at bird feeders it is best to cease feeding for at least three weeks. This is essential in order to prevent the disease spreading to the other birds using the feeding area. As trichomonosis is spread in the saliva, all it takes to reinfect a cleaned area is for a sick bid to turn up and spit out food again. If any other bird has contact with that spat out food or the sick birds saliva then it can spread to the other birds. By stopping feeding it forces all the birds to disperse away from the area where the sick bird was favouring, therefore reducing the risk of catching the disease. Unfortunately, the nature of the sick birds is to seek out an easy source of food where they will stay for long periods desperately trying to feed. This puts all the other visitors to the feeding stations at risk so it is best not to feed at all if a sick bird is visiting the feeding area.
At this time of year there is an abundance of natural food available so stopping feeding for a short time will not have a negative affect on the wild birds. The wild food that is taken by birds is more spread out than at a feeding station so there is less chance they will pick up the food discarded by any sick ones.
I hope this information clears things up a bit.
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I'm glad I've read IanH's post about this as I was concerned if I stopped feeding for 3 weeks (example) it would have a negative impact on my House Sparrow colony, which i would hate to loose.
But up until this week I'd only ever seen Collared Doves with the disease which just meant to bird bath or seed trays. This week on the other hand as young greenfinch has appeared so the feeders will have to come down.
We're having a lot of rain here, will that help wash the ground of anything nasty?
Hi Paul E
We are concerned that species like house sparrows, bullfinches and yellowhammers that are already in decline could be hit really hard if Trichomonosis establishes in these species. In cases where sick birds are using the feeders, it is best to stop feeding as this will reduce the chance of the healthy birds picking up any food discarded by the sick bird. House sparrows often make short moves to areas with natural food available at this time of year so stopping feeding if you have sick birds around is definitely recommended, hopefully their should be enough natural food available in your area to keep them well fed.
It is important to provide house sparrows with nesting and roosting sites as this will be key to keeping them in the area, planting ivy and honeysuckle for example will boost the shelter and natural food for them and is a highly recommened step in assisting the recovery of house sparrows.
From the monitoring work we have been doing over the last few years we usually see a peak in cases of tricomonosis during August and September. Since the disease reared its ugly head we have seen it survive in the finch population through wet summers and drought summers. As this parasite is carried around internally in the host birds throat, the weather makes very little difference.
Having recently become aware of the problem of this and similar diseases, and had a few cases of sick birds (three deaths) over past three weeks, I have been meticulous about cleaning and disinfecting feeders; but today I noticed 3 greenfinches attempting to feed voraciously at the hanging feeders and dropping almost everything. Younger birds would then quickly eat the broken scraps.
With great reluctance I've had to steel myself to stop all feeding for the time being; and the large clientèle of young goldfinches and chaffinches, especially, are quite bewildered by the disappearance of their food source.
Quite possibly, since they were introduced to my feeders by their parents, who have probably always regarded them as their major food source, they have never fed elsewhere. Is there a risk of making wild birds too dependent on garden feeding? Can I be pretty confident that they will be capable of finding adequate food elsewhere?
I suppose it's the lesser of two evils. Some may die from lack of food; but many more would die if the current levels of contamination were to continue.
I hope they'll find their way back quickly when I restart. The numbers have built up slowly from a poor beginning; and the glorious little things give me great joy.
This has been my concern, as our songbirds now rely heavily on garden feeders, especially the young that were introducted to them by their parents, as you mentioned.
I must add that I haven't used Spartrix or any other drug medication. I just try to reduce the risk as much has humanly possible by using CitroSan - a safe, non-toxic - water cleanser that acts agains trichom and other such infections - and maintain a strict hygience practice - I even change my bird seed twice to three times a day and drinking/bath water three times within 24-hour period. Another source to retain clean, disease-free water is Colloidal Silver, which is a natural, non-toxic cleanser that can be safely put in drinking/bathing water - withholding feed is one thing but the small birds will require clean drinking water and better to provide a clean source than sharing a communal puddle or such with an infected bird. Colloidal silver is reported to have antimicrobial effects. It has been used since before the 1900s for a large number of infections including viral, bacterial, PROTOZOAL (Trichomonads and such like) and fungal. Colloidal Silver is now becoming well known among airline passengers as a preventative treatment to all types of contagious infections, which one is susceptible to when sharing an enclosed space with a number of people.
I have safely used this with aviary birds for a short-time (up to two weeks) - it is widely used by bird keepers and is recommended by hoistic avian veterinarians. The dose is 5 drops per 4 ounces of water. The downside is, if used for long periods it is known to kill-off good gut bacteria, but then I always follow up with a probiotic (friendly gut bacteria replacement/supplement), as in "Avipro" from Vetark.co.uk
Since the episode with the two collared doves, I have not seen an ill-bird, in fact, I have not seen trichom in any of our garden visitors - Robins, blackbirds (who have just pushed out their third or fourth fledgling), an abundance of starlings and house sparrows, thus far. Naturally, I hope it stays this way The young starling that died, ironically looked healthy with perfect feathers and a very clean face and mouth. He might have had a heart defect or something similar. And the adult staling that I found dead at the edge of my bush around March/April also showed no signs of illness -the postmortem couldn't establish cause of death. The vet suspected old age.
Very best of luck ~ Starlinga
Thanks so much for your considered and detailed reply, Starlinga. A lot of very helpful information and advice there.