canker

Trichomoniasis – the hidden danger of bird feeding

As winter approaches, many households stock up on food for their feathered friends. Garden centres are bursting with the latest feeders, food and tables and buying good quality, clean food is very important.

Greenfinch on feeder

However, of even greater importance at this time of year is ensuring tables and feeders are kept scrupulously clean. Garden bird feeding is a commendable pursuit but it is clear that it can result in unnatural aggregations of birds feeding in a small area. While this is not a problem in itself, it can allow disease to rapidly spread.
Of the common diseases, trichomoniasis, often known as canker (in pigeons) or frounce (in birds of prey) is a flagellate protozoa that lives in damp environments. In the environment, damp places such bird tables, feeders and baths represent the perfect place for the parasite to spread, while ‘damp’ areas within the bird, such as the mouth, crop, digestive tract and eyes are the perfect place for the parasite to take hold.

Pigeon with canker

Affected birds develop cheese-like growth that prevent them from eating and eventually cause starvation and while some birds develop a degree of immunity, it is often fatal. Pigeons and finches are very commonly infected due to their habit of feeding the young and their mates with regurgitated food.

    So what can we do to limit the spread of this horrid disease?

Firstly, it’s important to make sure all birds feeders are washed in a solution of bleach on a weekly basis. All feeders should be thoroughly rinsed and allowed to air dry – this drying kills any remaining trichomonads.
Should you notice many infected birds then it may be necessary to stop feeding your garden birds for a period of time to allow the infection to pass before starting once again.

The good news is that trichomoniasis is a treatable condition if found early and if you find an infected bird, it is best to contact a local wildlife rescue.