Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Trichomonosis - PLEASE READ

A bad start to a Sunday morning of ringing, the rain pattered down against the window making streams of water run silently down the windscreen. All I did was mutter bad weather; struck last week and now this week. You may think "well why am I still writing a blog about ringing when all we did was sit in the car at the ringing site and watch the rain", well we didn't. After a while the clouds cleared and a very welcome sun rose.  We got the nets up reasonably quick as we were ready to get going. The birds didn't seem too active after all that rain as I couldn't hear much birdsong, however we did start to get one or two Tits and Finches coming in. 

As the morning went on there appeared to be a lack of Finches around which we had noticed since the New Year. We spent a bit more time studying the birds around the site and noticed that some birds were not behaving normally, especially Chaffinches.  They seemed slow to react when we approached them and they spent more time on the ground than usual and seemed very quiet and docile. Some also had fluffed up plumage. We began to suspect that they might be suffering from a parasite called Trichomonosis. We wondered whether these we're local birds or a flock that had moved in.

Trichomonosis is a parasite commonly found in pigeons but it has affected finches and other bird species. Birds with the parasite find it difficult to feed so they are more likely to use garden bird feeders and that is how they then spread it to other birds. At the ringing site we will be stopping all our activity. Many people in the village just a short distance away are feeding the birds. We will be warning the villagers about the disease and impact it has on birds and asking them to stop feeding the birds for at least 4 to 5 weeks and to disinfect their feeders. This will hopefully encourage the birds to spread out and not pass the parasite on to each other.

You could really help look out for signs of this parasite if you are doing the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend.

I have read up more on this nasty parasite on the BTO website and wanted to add a few more bits of information on here from their site:

Signs of disease 
In addition to showing signs of general illness, for example lethargy and fluffed-up plumage, affected birds may drool saliva, regurgitate food, have difficulty in swallowing or show laboured breathing. Finches are frequently seen to have matted wet plumage around the face and beak. In some cases, swelling of the neck may be visible from a distance. The disease may progress over several days or even weeks, consequently affected birds are often very thin or emaciated. 

Whilst medicines are available for the treatment of trichomonosis in captive birds, effective and targeted dosing of free-living birds is not possible. Where a problem with trichomonosis exists, general measures for control of disease in wild bird populations should be adopted: 
  • Ensure optimal hygiene at garden bird feeding stations, including disinfection (See Further information) 
  • Consider leaving bird baths empty until no deaths occur. Otherwise, be particularly vigilant to provide clean drinking water on a daily basis. Empty and dry the bird bath on a daily basis (drying kills the Trichomonas organism). 
  • Feeding stations encourage birds to congregate, sometimes in large densities, thereby increasing the potential for disease spread between individuals when outbreaks occur. If many birds in your garden are affected, we recommend that you consider significantly reducing the amount you feed, or stop feeding for a period (2-4 weeks). The reason for this is to encourage birds to disperse, thereby minimising the chances of new birds becoming infected at the feeding station. Gradually reintroduce feeding, whilst continuing to monitor for further signs of ill health

Following best practice for feeding garden birds is recommended to help control and prevent transmission of disease at feeding stations all year round:  
  • Routine good table hygiene. 
  • Provision of clean and fresh drinking water on a daily basis. 
  • Provision of fresh food from accredited sources. 
  • Rotate positions of feeders in the garden to avoid build-up of contamination in any one area and pay 
  • particular attention to clearing food remains that fall onto the ground. 

On a positive note;

Of course not all the birds at the site are infected as we caught a large flock of Long Tailed Tits which was nice, we also caught a pair of Tree-creepers; unusual for the location.

Whilst ringing we also get chance to watch birds as we did on Sunday, this time witnessing the Pink Footed Geese flock in their thousands and I have got to say preformed a rather formidable spectacle; a true jewel of wintering birds and what they are capable of.

I know it's a long blog with no pictures so thanks for reading and taking action.


  1. sad about the disease. i do hope it can be contained to a small population.

  2. Sorry to here that this has effected your ringing, where I am ringing we don't have the disease yet.

  3. Excellent post Findlay.
    It is a terrible disease, and heartbreaking to see infected birds.

  4. Thank you for the 'heads up' on this Findlay. Our finches all seem to be OK, apart from the odd one with 'bumblefoot', but we've had a couple of very sick-looking woodpigeons over the past few months, and your description has got me worrying - particularly as, once they find us, they tend to hang around, just sitting in the food tray all day. I'll be paying closer attention to these birds, and to hygiene from now on!

  5. Even though I'm across the pond, I'll be cleaning feeders and bird baths with even more care than usual tomorrow!

    Nice public service post.

    Those geese must have been a sight!

  6. Excellent and informative post Findlay. It's a horrible disease to see but thankfully the birds that are visiting my feeders at the moment seem to be free of it and in good condition...[;o)

  7. It's a horrid disease even the feeding station at our local reserve needed a good cleaning as a lot of birds were infected.

  8. Useful piece of information. Have occasionally seen the odd bird looking puffed up and not really feeding either. Will look out for the symptoms more carefully in future.We did once(10+ years ago) have a terrible outbreak with these symptoms in collared doves. Rang RSPB at the time, but they couldn't throw any light on it.