Trichomoniasis in Finches – the American Goldfinch

In fall 2007, two incidents of purple finch, Carpodacus purpureus, mortality involving 4 -5 birds each, were reported from mainland Nova Scotia (NS). One finch was submitted for post mortem examination from one location, and two finches were submitted from the other. The submission included immature and adult and male and female birds. They were all emaciated, and one finch from each location had a severely ulcerated and necrotic lesion in the oral cavity and/or esophagus. The tissue damage was of sufficient severity to have substantially reduced ingestion of food and possibly precluded eating entirely. Therefore, this would have been the primary cause of their poor body condition. Microscopically, Trichomonas sp., a protozoan parasite, was identified as the cause of the lesion.

Trichomoniasis, the disease caused by this infectious organism, is a well documented illness affecting many bird species, but it is primarily diagnosed in pigeons and doves (also known as canker in these birds) and raptors (also know as frounce in these birds). Trichomoniasis has also been reported in various species of passerine birds, particularly sparrows and finches, and, since 2005, has emerged as a new cause of significant mortality in populations of greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) and chaffinch (Fringella coelebs) in the United Kingdom (UK), where it is known as trichomonosis (Duff et. al., 2007. The Veterinary Record. 161: 828). Similar to the pattern of disease occurrence associated with trichomoniasis in the UK, the seasonality of purple finch mortality in NS was late summer and early fall. This is unlike salmonellosis in songbirds which typically occurs in the winter. Although the history did not state it clearly, purple finch mortality in NS may have happened around bird feeders. If so, this would be another factor shared with the UK where mortality caused by trichomoniasis in finches is associated with the practice of bird feeding. Lastly, the incident locations in NS were separated by approximately 300 km (i.e., Bridgewater and River John), suggesting the possibility of a widespread problem in the purple finch population. (Scott McBurney and Maria Forzan, CCWHC, Atlantic Region)

Individuals who are interested in monitoring for the occurrence of trichomoniasis and/or preventing the disease from becoming a problem at their bird feeders can refer to the Garden Bird Health Initiative or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for further information. Information includes clinical signs and spread of the disease as well as recommendations regarding prevention. (modified from the CCWHC Spring 2008 Newsletter, 13-2).

Update for 2008 – the American goldfinch is also involved:

A purple finch from Cook Brook, NS, was diagnosed as having died of trichomoniasis on early July, 2008. Since then, 4 other finches from various locations in Nova Scotia, 1 finch from PEI and 2 finches from New Brunswick (see map) have been examined and diagnosed with trichomoniasis. The finches from New Brunswick were American goldfinches, Carduelis tristis, not purple finches. Purple finches dying of trichomoniasis were noted in NS last year, but, similar to the pattern reported in Great Britain, the mortalities occurred in late summer and early fall. The problem appears to be occurring earlier this year.

We would like to encourage investigation of finch mortalities and submission of suitable specimens for cause of death determination. Also, we would be interested to hear about purple finch mortalities that might be occurring in other provinces in Atlantic Canada. We are in communication with Veterinary Pathologists in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, in an effort to monitor this problem more effectively.

Please contact Scott McBurney, Darlene Weeks or Maria Forzan if you have any information or want to submit a finch for necropsy, or call the CCWHC Atlantic at (902) 628 4314.

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3 Responses

  1. Glenda Diane Stacy says:

    I live in Columbia, TN and believe 2 house finches from my yard feeders have died from trichomoniasis. I am removing all feeders and bird bath for one month. I hope this will be enough. I have read three weeks.

    • CWHC says:

      We have been recommending 2 weeks, though taking them down for longer during the summer months shouldn’t be detrimental to the birds. The idea behind taking down the feeders for two weeks is that it causes the birds to disperse to find new sources of food and water. In so doing you are keeping from infected birds and healthy birds all congregating around an available and accessible food source where the disease can then be easily spread through direct contact or through food and/or water. Another way to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission is to only use feeders that keep seed dry (the parasite cannot persist for prolonged periods on dry food), change water frequently in baths to keep it clean, and regularly disinfect all feeders and baths.

  1. 2013-03-19

    […] However, this benefit can also be a threat to the birds feeding, due to possible contamination by bacteria such as various Salmonella species and protozoan parasites such as Trichomonas species.  In Ontario alone, the CCWHC has received numerous songbirds that have died due to Salmonella infections.  The bird species can vary, depending on the year and location, but this year has been quite unsuitable for Common Redpolls.  Infected birds can infect a feeder simply by using it.  The bacteria can be on their feet and in their droppings, and will ultimately be ingested by other birds, infecting them and continuing the cycle.  Worse still, the bacteria has tendency to move from one feeder to another by this form of transmission.  In other areas of Canada, such as the Atlantic region, Trichomonas species also spread from feeders and affect numerous song birds, such as finches. […]

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