VICTORIA – Bird lovers are encouraged to help protect bird populations and prevent the spread of infectious diseases through the regular cleaning of bird feeders and birdbaths. During spring, many small migratory songbirds are returning home from winter retreats to the south. Species such as pine siskins, redpolls and grosbeaks are commonly found in large flocks at this time of year. This can result in high-density congregations of birds around bird feeders and water sources such as birdbaths.
While this is a wonderful opportunity for birders, the increased density of the birds as well as the stress of weather and nutrition challenges can lead to the spread of serious and even fatal diseases among the birds, such as avian conjunctivitis, avian pox virus and salmonella bacterium. Some diseases not only threaten local bird populations, but can spread to pets and people handling infected birds or contaminated materials.
The public can help maintain bird health and prevent the spread of these diseases through a number of simple measures. The most important thing people can do is to clean their bird feeders and birdbaths regularly. This should include replacing birdbath water every few days, and scrubbing and cleaning feeders and birdbaths as well as the area around them at least every couple of weeks. Other things bird lovers can do to help include:
* Spreading out multiple feeders to discourage crowding. Use smaller feeders that allow only one or two birds at a time, and that are made of plastic or metal, rather than wood.
* Keep the area under the feeders clean. Locating them above cement will make this task easier.
* If you see one or two diseased birds in your area, take your feeder down immediately and clean it.
* If you have more than three diseased birds in your area, encourage the birds to disperse for a while. Take your feeders down for a week or two, clean them well, and re-hang them.
* Consider letting your neighbours know so that they can take action too.
Identifying affected birds varies with the disease, but here are some common signs to look for:
* Birds with avian conjunctivitis have red, swollen, watery or crusted eyes, and may have trouble feeding. You may see them remaining on the ground near the feeder. This disease may be spread by feeders with small openings that birds rub the sides of their heads on.
* Birds with avian pox virus may have warty lesions on the unfeathered parts of their head, legs or feet.
* Birds with salmonella bacterium may be found dead or appear very tame and sit quietly for hours or days, often with their feathers fluffed out.
Salmonella can easily spread to pets or humans and so strict hygiene should be enforced in these situations.