Country Matters: Slow death at the bird table for which there is no cure

The threat of bird flu among poultry as the Christmas market draws near is a serious matter in many ways, but there is another dire disease afflicting wild birds at the moment. It is not a pandemic virus, but an infection for which there is no known instant cure.

t is called trichomoniasis, from a unicellular protozoan, Trichomonas gallinaewhich causes lesions in a bird’s throat and sinuses and is spread at bird feeding sites.

As the disease progresses, infected birds find it difficult to swallow food or water, eventually leading to death from starvation and dehydration.

The disease is transmitted by poor environmental hygiene at bird feeders, bird baths and garden seed feeders. It occurs when weather conditions hinder homeowners’ daily garden trips, resulting in sporadic bird seed dispersal and clogging of feeding sites.

During this time, conservation organization BirdWatch Ireland is receiving reports of puffed up, clouded and stooped birds hanging listlessly in gardens for long periods of time until they literally fall from their perches.

Finches appear to be the most commonly affected species – chaffinches, greenfinches and the easily recognizable goldfinch. Wood pigeons, pigeons and some remaining sparrows are prey, as are pheasants and chicks on estates and farmland, which are fed in breeding stations

Some birds, such as robins and blackbirds, appear to be immune, and it must be noted that humans and pets cannot contract the disease through gardening activities.

Cleanliness is the order of the day and a lot of work will be required to scrub infected areas such as bird feeders and bird tables in the garden where bird seed can clot. It is important when humped and cloudy birds are observed to move tables and feeders, scrub and let dry in the wind and sporadic sunshine.

Animal-friendly disinfectants should be used. For about 10 days, no food should be laid out for birds.

Environmental hygiene is the basic formula for dealing with this problem, with careful distribution of seeds and nuts with fresh water in troughs and baths every day.

Under no circumstances should food be spilled on the floor or liquids spilled under tables cleaned up.

Some recent letters to the editor express concern at the practice of some well-meaning people throwing kitchen scraps such as bread or boiled potatoes on the floor “to feed the poor birds”. This may be motivated by friendliness but is not advisable as it attracts vermin (rats carry Weil disease which is dangerous to humans), feral pigeons and active herring gulls.

I have had reports, particularly from apartment occupants, of kitchen scraps being thrown from balconies into forecourts, which then have to be cleared away by ground floor occupants. Wandering and semi-feral cats are quick to expect such manna from heaven.

There is currently no cure for birds infected with this throat disease, although it is not fatal in all cases and some neglected birds are recovering.

If you see such birds in your garden you can contact BirdWatch Ireland at for advice. Country Matters: Slow death at the bird table for which there is no cure

Fry Electronics Team

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