Trichomonosis Incidents in Atlantic Canadian Birds

Recent reports from Atlantic Canada suggest there are numerous potential incidents of trichomonosis causing disease and death of birds. Trichomonosis is a disease that regularly infects birds in the region.

What is Trichomonosis?

Trichomononsis (also commonly known as trichomoniasis, canker, or frounce) is an infectious disease among many species of birds caused by the microscopic parasite Trichomonas gallinae.  The parasite often infects the upper digestive tract, as well as the liver, lungs, air sacs, internal lining of the body, pancreas, bones, and the sinuses of the skull. This parasite does not pose a health risk to humans or other mammals (e.g. cats and dogs), however, it does pose a risk to captive birds (e.g. domestic poultry and pet birds).

Liver of American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) infected with Trichomonas sp.
Photomicrograph from Forzάn et al. (2010): Can. Vet. J. 51: 391-396.

 

Why is Trichomonosis Important?

Outbreaks of trichomonosis have resulted in significant population declines in greenfinches and chaffinches in the United Kingdom since 2005. This disease was identified for the first time in wild birds in Atlantic Canada in 2007 where it is regularly identified in purple finch (Haemorhous purpureus), American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), and pine siskin (Spinus pinus) populations.

Healthy male American goldfinch.
Photo credit:  Dwaine Oakley

 

 

   
Healthy male and female purple finches, respectively.
Photo credits: Dwaine Oakley

 

 

Healthy pine siskin.
Photo credit: Dwaine Oakley

 

What are the Symptoms?

Lesions within the mouth, throat, crop, and esophagus. Difficulty swallowing food and water, may drool, exhibit difficulty breathing, may exhibit wet/matted plumage around face/neck (possibly from regurgitation), and/or swollen neck. General signs of illness including lethargy, poor ability to fly, and fluffed up feathers.

American goldfinch exhibiting signs of infection.
Photo credit: Penny Clark

 

Purple finches exhibiting signs of infection.
Photo credits: Penny Clark and
Forzάn et al. (2010): Can. Vet. J. 51: 391-396, respectively .

 

How is it Spread?

Birds can be exposed to the parasite through food or water that has been contaminated by saliva, regurgitated food, or bird droppings from infected birds. Infected birds can also infect their nestlings when providing them with food. Feeders and baths represent potential sites where birds may be exposed to and contract trichomonosis.

How can we Help Prevent Spreading Trichomonosis?

Due to the potential risk that bird feeders and bird baths pose as transmission sites for Trichomonas it is recommended that these are emptied and taken down during outbreaks. Remove feeders and baths for at least two weeks to encourage birds to disperse from the area, reducing the potential for disease transmission. There is often plenty of other sources of food and water for birds during the summer months.

Clean and disinfect bird feeders and bird baths thoroughly and regularly. It is recommended that you use a weak solution of household bleach to disinfect feeders and baths. Be sure to rinse feeders and baths well and allow them to dry completely before returning them to use.

Recent research suggests that moist bird seed is a more suitable environment for hosting Trichomonas than dry seed, for this reason it is recommended that you only use bird feeders that prevent feed from becoming wet. Do not use table/platform feeders, these feeders can often expose seed to rain and also allow potentially sick birds to sit on top of the seed, potentially further increasing risk of disease transmission among birds.

 

American goldfinches and purple finch at bird feeder. Photo credit: M. Cockram

 

Please report any sick or dead birds to your nearest CWHC regional centre.

 

For More Information Check out our Full Trichomonosis Fact Sheet Here

 

*This post has been revised. Previous photos have been replaced to avoid potential confusion.

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17 Responses

  1. Debbie says:

    Have had finches dying at my place in Rollingdam just outside of St Stephen for about the last month. I just heard about this a couple of days ago.

  2. D.F. says:

    Have seen two purple finches that exhibit these signs over the last couple weeks. Hanwell NB.

  3. Sherrill Harrington says:

    This is happening in Liverpool, N.S. Yesterday I wondered what was wrong with a purple finch sitting on the bird bath for at least 20 minutes ,looking very raggedy, also his beak looked different.Then I read this information and realized he was sick.I have taken down my feeder and the bird bath.We must all do our part to keep are birds safe.

  4. Cindy smith says:

    Humming bird feeders, Also?

    • CWHC says:

      Short answer is no, it may not be necessary to remove hummingbird feeders. I only say this due to the lack of evidence suggesting hummingbirds are currently being infected, this may change. For now, it is mostly important that you remove seed feeders and bird baths and disinfect them regularly when they are in use. Be sure to disinfect your hummingbird feeder regularly as well to prevent the spread of other diseases that hummingbirds definitely are susceptible to.

  5. Thérèse Rousseau-Brown says:

    Does this also apply to hummingbird feeders?

    • CWHC says:

      Short answer is no, it may not be necessary to remove hummingbird feeders. I only say this due to the lack of evidence suggesting hummingbirds are currently being infected, this may change. For now, it is mostly important that you remove seed feeders and bird baths and disinfect them regularly when they are in use. Be sure to disinfect your hummingbird feeder regularly as well to prevent the spread of other diseases that hummingbirds definitely are susceptible to.

  6. Susan says:

    Can birds carry the disease and not show signs of illness.

    • CWHC says:

      Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer for all birds at this time. It is possible, pigeons have been shown to be asymptomatic carriers. However, it appears that no instances of finches or other song birds being asymptomatic carriers have been recorded in the literature. That’s not to say it’s impossible. It’s also possible birds could be asymptomatic and during early stages of infection.

  7. Grace Stickings says:

    How can we find out when the danger is over and we can start feeding again?

    • CWHC says:

      If you see signs of the disease in birds in your yard we suggest taking down the feeders for two weeks. To further reduce risk of spreading the disease ensure that the bird food remains dry, the parasite does not appear to survive well on dry food or clean water. Be sure to clean and disinfect all feeders and bird baths regularly while in use.

  8. Tracy says:

    How will it affect my domestic chickens? Or their eggs that we eat?

    • CWHC says:

      Domestic chickens can be infected, so it is certainly a disease to be on the look out for. If you believe one or more of your chickens might be infected I would recommend consulting a veterinarian for specific advice on how to proceed. With regards to your question about the eggs, the Trichomonas parasite does not does not cause disease in humans, however, if your bird is sick it is best to consult your vet with how to proceed.

  9. Catherine says:

    I am living in a remote coastal area in Nova Scotia, and have been feeding birds at several stations for 30 years. I have a large flock of American Goldfinch, and at this time I am doubtful that there is a local food source alternative because we are a few weeks away from plant species turning to seed. I did take down my feeders prophylactically yesterday, but the birds have been persistently returning. If I am sure to keep food dry, as we always do, would it be permissible to resume feeding and carefully monitor for signs of illness?

    • CWHC says:

      What we recommend is that if you see signs of disease in birds in your area take down the feeders for two weeks. The birds will often linger around areas they know have sources of food, once they get hungry enough they can and will disperse to areas with more abundant food resources. If there does not appear to be any cases of disease in your local area it is fine to keep your bird feeders up as long as the seed is not exposed to moisture, the parasite can not persist on dry seed for prolonged periods of time.

  10. Donna Martin says:

    Are you tracking locations of these outbreaks and what is the prevalence of this disease on PEI. In what areas have diseased birds been reported in PEI? Thanks!

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