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Get lots of birds at your home? Here are some tips to keep them healthy and reduce spread of disease at feeders
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Two American robins have a heated dispute at a home in Hall County. - photo by Scott Rogers

Georgia bird watchers may want to take extra care of their neighborhood’s feathered friends during the colder months. 

With larger numbers of birds flocking to feeders when resources are scarce, the chances of illness spreading among avians increases, according to wildlife experts.

Bob Sargent, ornithologist and program manager of Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division, said bird sickness has seemed more noticeable this winter in Georgia because of the number of pine siskins reported dead or ill from salmonellosis, which is caused by the salmonella bacteria. He said these birds have gathered at feeders farther south than usual because their typical food source has been in short supply.

“They are already physiologically challenged, and their immune systems might be taxed,” Sargent said. “Some may as a result come down with salmonellosis.”

He said these infected birds excrete the bacteria in their waste, which can end up in feeders and on seeds collected on the ground. 

Sargent said another common sickness he’s seen among feeder-friendly birds includes aspergillosis, an infection caused by a fungus that can grow on seeds once they’ve gotten wet. He explained that the spores from the fungus can be picked up in a bird’s respiratory system, resulting in illness.

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An eastern bluebird perches on a branch in Hall County. - photo by Scott Rogers

 Garrett Hibbs, Hall County UGA cooperative extension agent, said mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, also known as “house finch eye disease,” appears in birds throughout the state. The condition is caused by the bacteria, mycoplasma gallisepticum, commonly called MG, and is seen among finches, including the house finch. As most Georgian birders know, these small passerines are year-round residents.

“Sometimes people will see finches at their feeders with these swollen, crusty eyes,” Hibbs said. “It was first reported in 1994, since then, the epidemic with house finches has slowed down.”

Hibbs noted that house finches can be infected and not show symptoms. 

Occasionally, Sargent said he will see reports of avian pox in the state, which materializes as clusters of warts on the faces, legs and feet of birds. He said the virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and directly between crowding birds. 

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A lonely wood thrush surveys its surroundings at a home in Hall County. - photo by Scott Rogers

Sargent and Hibbs both link unhygienic feeders to bird sickness.

To decrease the spread of disease and illness among neighborhood birds, they have offered a few tips for local avian-lovers.

  • Clean your bird feeders at least once a week with a 10% bleach solution (one-part bleach, nine parts water). Hibbs said sometimes bacterial pathogens can appear in fecal matter, so you don’t want to let them remain dirty for long. 

  • Refill bird baths with fresh water and clean them every two days. When avians land in bird baths, Sargent said they routinely defecate, contaminating water. He also added that bird baths are also a common breeding location for mosquitos, carriers of avian pox.

  • Take your feeder down every now and then. If you keep it in the same space year-round, Hibbs said it increases the risk of sick birds paying a visit. 

  • Frequently clean the area below your feeders, twice a week if you can.

  • For those with multiple feeders, space them out to help reduce gatherings of birds.

  • Don’t wait until birds look ill to use these precautions.

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