Parasite infects Atlantic finches

Purple finch (H. Greenwood)

Purple finch (H. Greenwood)

Trichomonosis diagnosed in PEI and New Brunswick, to be confirmed in Newfoundland

During the summer of 2016, the CWHC Atlantic Region received numerous reports of dead finches around bird feeders.  Carcasses were collected and submitted for testing.  The parasite, Trichomonas gallinae was confirmed to be the cause of death.  Trichomonosis (also known as trichomoniasis) is a well known disease in many bird species, primarily in pigeons and doves (known as ‘canker’) and raptors  (known as ‘frounce’), but also in finches.  The parasite damages tissues of the mouth, throat, crop and esophagus.  Affected birds may drool, regurgitate food, have difficulty swallowing food or water, have wet matted feathers and be very thin and lethargic.

So far, there have 11 confirmed cases of trichomonosis in 2016, nine in PEI and 2 in New Brunswick. Numerous other cases are presumed to be trichomonosis or still to be confirmed, including three cases from Newfoundland, five in New Brunswick and five in PEI.  Affected species include purple finch, American goldfinch and pine siskins.

Trichomonosis also confirmed in Ontario

UPDATE (September 22, 2016):  There were also four confirmed cases of trichomonosis in American goldfinches in eastern Ontario in August 2016.  This is not the first occurrence of trichomonosis in Ontario, as some purple finches were diagnosed with the parasite in 2012.  However, these new cases may indicate the disease is expanding its range.  The CWHC is interested in monitoring the occurrence of trichomonosis in all regions of Canada.

Parasite recently discovered in Canadian wild birds.

American goldfinch (Photo: H. Greenwood)

American goldfinch (Photo: H. Greenwood)

Trichomonosis was first documented in wild birds in Atlantic Canada in 2007, and it has been encountered regularly in the purple finch and American goldfinch populations in the region since that time.    Why Trichomonas gallinae has appeared in Canadian finches is uncertain but there is some evidence suggesting that backyard bird feeding and watering may be involved in transmission of the disease

Bird feeders and baths may be transmission sites

Food or water can be contaminated when sick birds regurgitate food and saliva or leave droppings.  Although under most conditions the parasite is not viable in the environment for long, it is still thought that birds congregating at feeders and baths may increase the likelihood of disease transmission.

The following precautions are recommended to keep birds healthy:
  1. During a known outbreak of trichomonosis, remove bird feeders and baths for at least two weeks.  During the summer months, there is plenty of natural food and water available for birds.
  2. Clean your bird feeders and baths regularly.  A weak solution of domestic bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite) can be used for disinfection.
  3. Make sure your bird seed stays dry.  Wet seed is a more suitable environment for potential survival of the parasite.
  4. Do not use table feeders.  Sick birds sitting directly on bird seed are more likely to contaminate it.

Although purple finch and American goldfinch populations are currently healthy, continued monitoring of the disease is warranted.  The parasite has been linked to declines of finch species in the United Kingdom.  The CWHC urges the public to report any sick or dead birds to their closest regional CWHC centre.

NOTE: Trichomonas gallinae is a parasite of birds and does not pose a health threat to humans or other mammals such as dogs and cats. Captive poultry and pet birds could be infected with the parasite

The CWHC recently released a new factsheet about trichomonosis.  Click the image to download or print your copy today!



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