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.

You may also like...

33 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!

  11. Diana Austin says:

    Can anyone clarify if the vertical wire-cage suet feeders are also a risk right now for transmission of this disease? I’ve read about the danger of seed-tables and ground seed, etc., but I haven’t seen anything about vertical wire suet-block feeders.
    We live in downtown Fredericton, NB, and our garden, which has a thick lilac hedge and various trees, is full right now with young cardinals, nuthatches, chipping sparrows, warblers, woodpeckers, and many other types, and they are all investigating our currently empty suet cage. We haven’t refilled it since hearing about this disease being in the province, but we normally put a block in that disappears in a few days as lots of birds–even ones I think of as normally being ground-scratchers–figure out how to get at the suet.
    Last summer the young birds astonished us by seeming to find the suet so helpful, so we’d like to keep providing it, but only if it’s not a danger to the birds.

    • CWHC says:

      Yes the suet feeders are also a potential site of infection. We suggest removing these feeders as well and disinfecting them similar to other feeders and bird baths at this time.

  12. elizabeth bernard says:

    I have a yellow long tube screen sided Finch feeder, Your saying do not use this as the food will get wet during rain or snow in the winter ?? Please let me know as I will not use it if it will harm the birds !!!! <3

    • CWHC says:

      At the moment we are suggesting that anyone in the regions where incidents have been observed should take down their feeders for a minimum of two weeks. If you are going to use feeders it is suggested you use only ones that ensure the food remain dry during inclement weather. We advise against the use of table feeders because they do not shelter food against the precipitation meaning it easily gets wet, and also birds walk/sit/defecate on the food making it far easier for the parasite to be spread. Those feeders that protect food from getting wet will greatly reduce the risk of transmitting the parasite.

  13. Catherine says:

    I’ve just come upon a sick or injured bird in my yard, and I’m wondering if this could be a sign of Trichomoniasis. I don’t see any evidence of lesions, drooling or matted plumage, but the bird is unable to fly and has repeated unnatural neck twisting movement.

    I took a short movie of the behaviour, and have left the bird in an area where it will not be disturbed.

    Our bird feeders have been put away and I have seen no other signs of trouble or distress. I would appreciate having some expert opinion about what may be happening to this bird, and how it might affect other wild birds in the area. I’ll attach a link to my short video, if you or any of your colleagues would be willing to take a look. https://www.dropbox.com/s/plvk8d560slnfg0/Sick%20or%20injured%20bird%2C%20August%2015.MOV?dl=0

    Thank you in advance for any advice or information you can offer.

  14. Dale says:

    It is now Sept 11. Can we put our feeders back up now? If so, what precautions should we take? Many thanks.

    • CWHC says:

      Thank you for your inquiry. At this time we are still receiving reports of birds exhibiting symptoms of trichomonosis, it is therefore not recommended that feeders or bird baths be put out at this time. Trichomonosis outbreaks tend to be at their worst from mid-summer through the fall until cold weather sets in, so it could be some time until we cease receiving reports. Hopefully, by keeping feeders and bird baths down this will reduce the duration of the outbreaks. We will continue to provide updates on our facebook and twitter feeds until such time that we stop receiving reports.

  15. gerald says:

    will there be an announcement as to when we can put our feeders back out?

    • CWHC says:

      Once reports of the disease cease to come in for multiple weeks we intend to let people know that the risk of outbreaks have probably subsided for the season. However, given the continued warm and wet weather in parts of eastern Canada it is advisable that feeders stay down until cold weather has set in to reduce the risk of further outbreaks.

      • Russ Hunt says:

        Where would I look to find such an announcement? Here (Keswick Ridge, NB) it has certainly been warm , but not remotely wet, and my impression is that cold weather may be setting in right about now. We’ve hardly seen a bird all summer — since we took our feeders down, in July, I think, in response to the warnings about trichomonosis. I’m concerned that in fact we may have lost them to the disease, and would love to try to test that by putting some feeders back up. But I won’t until there’s an “all clear.”

        • CWHC says:

          Once incidents in Atlantic Canada appear to have ceased for the season we will make posts on facebook and twitter to let people know. Though we understand the interest in getting feeders back up, our general stance is that feeders should, ideally, remain down until the cold weather has fully set in to minimize chances of additional outbreaks occurring.

  16. Barclay says:

    So is it cold enough now ? – so I can feed the little birds again in Nova Scotia ?

    • CWHC says:

      No incidents of trichomonosis have been reported in about a month now, so the risk appears to be significantly diminished for the season. However, many other communicable diseases exist that can still be transmitted among birds through bird feeders/baths and in some cases also to other animals, pets, and people (i.e. Salmonella, E. coli). While the safest measure is always going to be to refrain from using bird feeders/baths we understand the enjoyment people get from feeding the birds and watching them in their yards, so if you do use them we suggest following the precautionary steps outlined in some of our fact sheets and health notes available through our website (http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/fact_sheets.php ;
      http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/docs/wildlife_health_notes/Backyard_Birds_Health_Note.pdf), and our new infographic currently available on our facebook and twitter pages.

      Primarily we suggest to disinfect the feeders/baths regularly; monitor the birds coming to your yard for any symptoms of disease or any dead birds in the area and if you see any 1) take down the feeders/baths immediately for at least two weeks, and 2) report it and any dead birds that you might find to us; and be sure not to use table/platform or any other feeders that allows the food to become moist and please do not feed birds on the ground as this also increases the risk of food becoming contaminated by allowing birds to land on the food.

      Hope this helps.

  17. Barclay says:

    OK – thank you for your tough love approach to feeding birds – but this also means we should not be feeding ground-feeding birds like Mourning Doves – eh ? I am sure that you are right, but it does feel a shame to have to play favourites when it comes to feeding birds – I guess this is one place where tough love is the right way to go

    • CWHC says:

      Unfortunately ground feeding poses many more risks to birds. These include: providing opportunity for cats to stalk birds on the ground, encouraging the presence of unwanted (pest) wildlife (e.g. rats, mice, raccoons, etc), as well as providing increased opportunity for disease transmission. Pigeons and doves are commonly infected with pathogens such as Trichomonas and this type of feeding increases the risk of transmission of these diseases to vulnerable species of song birds.

      We are not alone in suggesting people not feed birds on the ground, you can find similar suggestions made by the Canadian Wildlife Federation in their bird feeding fact sheet as well: http://cwf-fcf.org/assets/pdf/en/wag/bfe.pdf

      This is not about playing favorites among bird species, it’s about limiting risks to all of our backyard birds.

  18. Barclay says:

    Very good – thank you for your honest and helpful advice – I will comply as yes I do love my backyard birds and want to keep them all healthy

Leave a Reply to gerald Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *