This story appears as an on-going series in the "Gilroy Dispatch", "Morgan Hill Times" and "Hollister Freelance".
House Finch with conjunctivitis March, 2015 By Colleen Grzan
"House Finch with conjunctivitis"
Humans are fortunate to have vaccines and medications to prevent or treat chicken pox, flu, polio, and other infectious illnesses that can sometimes be life-threatening. Wildlife is not so lucky. However, we can help them overcome diseases by prevention.
For example, birds visiting a poorly maintained feeder, with old and/or wet seed, could be susceptible to diseases such as Salmonellosis, Aspergillosis, Avian Pox, Trichomonias, and Mycopalmosis. These diseases can cause blindness, respiratory illness, mouth lesions, and general poor health which can result in starvation or make the birds more vulnerable to predators. In addition, sick birds spread the diseases to other birds and areas.
The respiratory disease Mycopalmosis caused conjunctivitis in two house finches. Both had inflamed, crusty, closed eyes, essentially making them blind. If they had not been rescued and brought into the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, they would have become easy prey to cats or have been unable to find food and starved to death. Fortunately, the birds were rescued just in time and have been successfully treated with special antibiotic eye drops.
Avian pox is another common disease that affects a bird's eyes. A western scrub jay, also currently in rehabilitation, arrived with the disease latent and, in less than one week, erupted with warty lesions on its eyelids, beak, mouth, and leg. Avian pox is transmitted by mosquitoes, by direct contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces and food. Just as with conjunctivitis, the infected bird becomes vulnerable to predation and starvation.
Both the avian pox virus and Mycopalmosis bacteria are highly contagious to other birds but are not zoonotic, meaning that they are not transmittable to humans. Though the avian conjunctivitis appears similar to the disease known as "pink-eye" in humans, the avian strain poses no known health threat to humans. Interestingly, though now a common bird across the United States, house finches are native to western North America. But in the mid-20th century, they were shipped to the East coast and sold illegally as "Hollywood Finches". The pet stores released the birds, which then "went forth and multiplied". It's these invaders that are source of the epidemic of Mycopalmosis. Here's how to keep your backyard birds healthy and happy:
1. Throw out old seed, especially if wet. 2. Scrub out feeder, inside and out, with a solution of 10% bleach and 90% water. 3. Rinse well several times and let dry. 4. Sweep up old seeds from underneath the feeder and wash the area. 5. Fill feeders with good quality bird seed. A birding store can advise you on what seeds, etc. attract what birds. Though jays are omnivorous (eating fruit, nuts, insects, and lizards) and finches are strictly herbivorous, both will enjoy sunflower seeds in the feeders and berries in the garden. 6. Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding, which increases the risk of spreading a disease. 7. Keep your birdbaths clean, too, and filled with fresh water
Then sit back and enjoy your charming backyard birds!
Colleen Grzan WERC, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, provides the community with rehabilitation services for orphaned, injured and sick native wildlife. It is supported solely by donations from businesses and the public.
W.E.R.C., the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center provides the community with rehabilitation services for orphaned, injured and sick native wildlife. Through our educational programs, W.E.R.C. encourages a peaceful coexistence between civilization and our native wildlife. Federal tax ID #77-0324296