Saturday, October 27, 2012

When It Is Time to Take Down the Bird Feeder

The end of the summer was a troubling time for me and the Red House Garden bird community.  We had a sick bird.

my sick House Finch
I noticed that this little House Finch constantly stayed on the bird feeder.  Its eyes were swollen, and it didn't even notice me at one point when I was right next to the bird feeder - it had House Finch Eye Disease.


House Finch Eye Disease, sometimes called Mycoplasma Conjunctivitis, is a respiratory infection where the eyes of infected birds become swollen, red, and crusted over.  Birds can recover from the infection, but the mortality rate is quite high from starvation or predation as these birds cannot see very well.


House Finch Eye Disease was first noticed in 1994 near Washington D.C. and can now be found all along the East coast.  It affects mainly House Finches, though it has also been found in other birds in the same family, such as Goldfinches, Purple Finches, and Evening Grosbeaks.

the House finch scratching its eyes against the roof gutter.
House Finches are not native to the Eastern U.S. - they are from the West coast.  All of our House Finches here in the East are actually descended from a small group of House Finches (or 'Hollywood Finches' as they were known back then) that were released in Long Island by bird dealers back in the 1940's when it became illegal to keep and sell them.

Hence our Eastern House Finches are all inbred and genetically inferior - and thus more susceptible to this disease.


So what to do about my little sick House Finch?  I didn't want it to infect the other finches at the bird feeder.  I tried disinfecting the bird feeder every day and limiting the amount of time it was up, but the sick bird still hung around the bird feeder quite a bit.  And when I thought I spotted another House Finch that had swollen eyes a couple days later, I knew it was time - I had to take down the bird feeder and let the birds disperse.

House Finch Eye Disease has taken its toll
The sick House Finch was looking even worse by then - I do hope it survived, but more likely Nature took its course.  At least with it being late summer, food was readily available for all the other birds that often stopped at my feeder.  (And despite what my squirrels say, I'm sure they are finding some food around as well!)


It is recommended that the feeders stay down for at least two weeks when there is disease going around.  I've had them down for over a month now as I've been too busy to put them back up, but soon I'll hang them back up for the fall migrating birds and for my winter residents.

 And hopefully by then all my birds will be healthy and clear-eyed.



19 comments:

  1. Poor little bird! I had my fair share of sick birds over the years (as every gardener has I am sure) and it breaks my heart a little each time I see them suffer.

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    1. It was definitely so sad to see! By the end, it was having trouble even finding the bird feeder and landing on it :(

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  2. Interesting post...I didn't know that the house finches were not native to the east coast. My mother had some sick birds a few years ago and took down her feeders. She never put them back up but instead added plants that would feed them. I hope your birds get well soon.

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    1. I love watching the birds in the winter when there's not much else going on outside. Hopefully the disease will have abated by the time I put my feeders back up!

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  3. Such an interesting post! I never knew any of this, and have never noticed any birds with similar symptoms. I took down my feeders years ago after the squirrels staged a hostile takeover. Since then I've fed the birds the natural way.

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    1. My squirrels do love the feeders - it's actually quite entertaining watching them try to get past the squirrel baffles to get to the food!

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  4. I love learning about the birds and had not know this about the house finches. I do not have feeders so maybe that is why I had not noticed this disease before.

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    1. I didn't know this about House Finches before I looked into the disease, either. House Finches are so common and plentiful that one would think they would be native!

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  5. hyo Indie, hope the storm i've heard was hitting North Carolina has got nothing to do with you and your birds ! Take care

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    1. Thankfully we haven't gotten much here except a little rain and wind. The Northeast is getting quite battered, though!

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  6. Thank you for the information in your post. I learned much I did not know. I did know of the eye disease though, but had no idea the Hollywood finches were released and then became established. Really interesting.

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    1. It was new information to me as well before I started reading about the eye disease. House Finches seem so common around here!

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  7. Wow, just about everything in this post was new to me. Yikes, I'll have to be on the lookout for sick birds. I so like having the feeders up, but maybe there's a better way that doesn't spread disease. I do leave the perennial seed heads up all winter, but they're located away from the window. Maybe I should plant some sunflowers in the spot where I currently have the bird feeders. Thanks for all this helpful info.

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    1. It's of course important to keep the bird feeders clean, which helps, but other than that there's sadly not a whole lot we can do. It seems like the finches are so susceptible to the disease.

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  8. This is very interesting information; I'll have to tell my mother to keep an eye on her visiting bird population. What a shame. Hopefully the disease has passed in time for winter.

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    1. I think I read somewhere that this disease is more common in late winter and fall. I can't remember why, though. Hopefully it will all be cleared up by the time I put my feeders back up!

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  9. Oh, so sad. I've never seen this, so I learned something new. But it's so sad to think of the poor little thing suffering, and not knowing what to do. Good for you, though, for having the steel to take the feeder down and do what is best for the entire community.

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    1. It was rather heart-wrenching, I have to tell you! There was just sadly nothing else to do. Hopefully none of the other birds caught it, though!

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  10. That is weird I had the same thing happen to one of my birds. He slept in the feeder. I could have even picked him up if I wanted to. He could not see. He slept in the feeder for about 3 days. Then he was gone. I didn't know what to do for him. backyardfeatheredfriends.com

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