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a bird feeder hobby, and the problem of infected finches

abaddon

Veteran Member
I don't know what to do. House finches with infected eyes keep showing up at my bird feeder.

I found three kinds of advice on the net:

1) take the feeder down, throw out all your seed, wash everything with bleach, and keep the feeder down for 2 weeks till the bird with the eye infection has gone away;

2) wash the feeder frequently, and if the finches are crowding it then put up another feeder to help them keep their distance from one another;

3) ignore it. The infected birds will just congregate at other feeders in the area if you take yours down.

The first time I saw an infected bird at the feeder, I followed #1. After putting the feeder back up after the scrubdown and 2-week wait, there's now another infected house finch again.

The bird's health matters more than me wanting to watch them and take pictures. But, this is important to me so I'm really hesitant about removing the feeder.
 

Angry Floof

Tricksy Leftits
Staff member
What does the vet and/or wildlife personnel say to do? I know living up in the mountains a while back I called the wildlife people several times about injured animals.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

Formerly Joedad
It must be in my area but I've never observed it, and I see lots of house finches.

If you want to help the birds you need to take down the feeder for a few days and disinfect it. Also clean up underneath the feeder if possible or just move it to another location when you put it back up.

I feed with black oil sunflower and millet, nothing else.
 

abaddon

Veteran Member
What does the vet and/or wildlife personnel say to do? I know living up in the mountains a while back I called the wildlife people several times about injured animals.
Ok, I got in touch with the vet at the wildlife rescue that I volunteered at a few summers ago. She advises I take the feeder down long enough for the infected bird to either heal or die. It's down, and I intend to put it back up in 2 weeks and watch again. Hopefully then there won't be another infected finch showing up.

She also suggested I try catching any infected birds and bring them to her (as a wildlife rescuer, the notion of trying to treat their problem would be a natural response). It's remotely possible since they're half-blind... Hmm, I'll think on that one...

I've sent out emails to a couple ornithologists and will wait to see if they respond.

Thanks Floof :)
 

abaddon

Veteran Member
It must be in my area but I've never observed it, and I see lots of house finches.

If you want to help the birds you need to take down the feeder for a few days and disinfect it. Also clean up underneath the feeder if possible or just move it to another location when you put it back up.

I feed with black oil sunflower and millet, nothing else.
I live in a small apartment two stories up, so I have the one place to put it - on my balcony.

I give them unshelled sunflower hearts. I wonder how much the choice of food influences which small perching birds come to the feeder.

The vet was saying that they press their faces on the feeder's wire to reach the seeds and that's how it spreads. So maybe I should use a platform feeder instead.
 

abaddon

Veteran Member
How can you tell the finches have infected eyes?
Crusty eyes. Red-rimmed eyes. Sometimes even blood-dripping eyes.

They have a hard time flying around. They'll hover over a branch while struggling to see it. Then once they've got a perch they'll sit with uncharacteristic stillness.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

Formerly Joedad
It must be in my area but I've never observed it, and I see lots of house finches.

If you want to help the birds you need to take down the feeder for a few days and disinfect it. Also clean up underneath the feeder if possible or just move it to another location when you put it back up.

I feed with black oil sunflower and millet, nothing else.
I live in a small apartment two stories up, so I have the one place to put it - on my balcony.

I give them unshelled sunflower hearts. I wonder how much the choice of food influences which small perching birds come to the feeder.

The vet was saying that they press their faces on the feeder's wire to reach the seeds and that's how it spreads. So maybe I should use a platform feeder instead.

That's a good idea, I use both types. The tube feeder is quite large, I inherited it from a neighbor. The openings are large enough that I don't think the birds faces contact the feeder, only the seeds.

I can understand your using shelled seed, as the shells do create a bit of a mess which would fall onto the lower apartment.

We routinely trap and eliminate English Sparrows. I don't spread that around but if we didn't eliminate these invasive birds the native cavity nesters would never stand a chance in the yard. I've never caught a house finch in the trap, though we have caught and released many other native species. If you have a flat area to feed from, trapping the house finches is doable.
 

abaddon

Veteran Member
Thanks everyone for the responses.

My plan of action is:

- clean the feeder frequently
- put less food in it (I'll contrive something... a tube down the middle of it so there's less seed. The less seed the less I have to throw out if I see a diseased bird.)

Less food = more frequent new food, and more frequent cleanings of the feeder.

Also I'll keep the wire mesh feeder. The birds are not pressing their faces into it to reach the seed. The vet who suggested that happens was thinking of the tube feeders with large holes in them that the birds have to put their heads inside to reach the seed.

I'll keep watching and taking photos, and will report instances of avian conjunctivitis to Project Feeder Watch. And rethink my plan if there's an increase in the problem. If I see just the one bird returning, I'll figure out a way to catch her and take her to the wildlife rescue. But if there are lot of sick finches out there, I'll have to take the feeder down so I'm not helping the illness spread.
 

Valjean

Veteran Member
Why do you think the infection is connected to your feeder?
If you want to do something about it maybe you should trap one of the infected birds, take it to a vet and diagnose the problem. Hard to solve a mystery problem.
 

abaddon

Veteran Member
Why do you think the infection is connected to your feeder?
If you want to do something about it maybe you should trap one of the infected birds, take it to a vet and diagnose the problem. Hard to solve a mystery problem.
It's Mycoplasma gallisepticum also known as House Finch Eye Disease.

It can spread from animal to animal and more frequently at places where they crowd - like at bird feeders. The bird's eyes are very sore, so they will rub them on branches and feeders. In feeders with deep ports, their infected eyes can touch the port. Then along comes a healthy bird and possibly picks up the germs.

The only mystery I wanted to solve was what I should do personally about my situation. The advice on the Net is piecemeal and contradictory. But the input here helped me sort what I'm going to do.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

Formerly Joedad
Why do you think the infection is connected to your feeder?
If you want to do something about it maybe you should trap one of the infected birds, take it to a vet and diagnose the problem. Hard to solve a mystery problem.
It's Mycoplasma gallisepticum also known as House Finch Eye Disease.

It can spread from animal to animal and more frequently at places where they crowd - like at bird feeders. The bird's eyes are very sore, so they will rub them on branches and feeders. In feeders with deep ports, their infected eyes can touch the port. Then along comes a healthy bird and possibly picks up the germs.

The only mystery I wanted to solve was what I should do personally about my situation. The advice on the Net is piecemeal and contradictory. But the input here helped me sort what I'm going to do.

I noticed my first case. When the weather is bad the birds shelter on the window ledges so I get a good close look at them. There was one case and the bird kept rubbing the infected eye on the window ledge. Their behavior when feeding is to strike their beaks and faces on branches to clean after feeding on seed. This also likely passes along the disease and they do this in the trees beside the feeder. Not much I can do about that.

My plan is to remove the tube feeder and only use the four platform feeders. I really don't think my tube feeder is a problem as the openings are large but all those little feathery heads going after seeds through the same openings can't be good. I get a good look at other species as they feed in a pear tree close to the window and have seen no other infections, only the one house finch.
 

abaddon

Veteran Member
I get the impression from a few different sources that the larger holes are the biggest problem with some feeders.

This person presents the argument visually:



There's differing general advice out there, but IMV this seemed the most sensible set of ideas listed in one place:

- Clean your feeders at least every month with a diluted bleach solution. Rinse well and allow your feeders to dry completely before rehanging them.
- Consider purchasing tube feeders that can be completely disassembled and washed in a diluted bleach solution in the kitchen sink or put in the dishwasher.
- Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
- Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding among birds.
- If you see diseased birds, take feeders down and clean them. Wait a few days before putting feeders back up to encourage sick birds to disperse. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for help with sick birds.

I decided to get a platform feeder too. It won't prevent them trying to take shelter, since I have a covered balcony so some of the birds like hanging about on it anyway. But the platform feeder won't present the same opportunity for eye-rubbing, and I can clean it and throw some fresh seed in it more frequently.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

Formerly Joedad
Thank-you for the vid. Very informative. I have exactly the type of feeder that is the worst wrt the disease. It's coming down and will stay down for a while. On my next trip to the Audubon Center I hope to find a replacement feeder.
 

Tigers!

Veteran Member
There's differing general advice out there, but IMV this seemed the most sensible set of ideas listed in one place:

- Clean your feeders at least every month with a diluted bleach solution. Rinse well and allow your feeders to dry completely before rehanging them.
- Consider purchasing tube feeders that can be completely disassembled and washed in a diluted bleach solution in the kitchen sink or put in the dishwasher.
- Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
- Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding among birds.
- If you see diseased birds, take feeders down and clean them. Wait a few days before putting feeders back up to encourage sick birds to disperse. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for help with sick birds.

Works with chooks too.
 

southernhybrid

Contributor
The common name of those finches is red finch. We have a sunflower feeder but it's a tray on top of a pole. We added a raccoon baffle many years ago, after discovering a young raccoon climbing the pole and shaking all of the sunflower seeds to the ground for himself.

I actually enjoy watching the birds on our many suet feeders. We have attracted somewhere around 20 species of birds to the suet feeders. This year, we even had quite a few blue birds come to the suet feeders for the first time ever. Tit mice, nut hatches, chickadees and a variety of wrens, a very small woodpecker, lots of cardinals, and of course the red finches come and go all day. We've never seen any finches with infected eyes, but I do appreciate the information. I haven't seen any gold finches in several years which does make me wonder what happened to them.

Thrashers, mockingbirds, crows, doves frequently eat the suet that drops to the ground. I do dislike red winged black birds as they frequently come in huge flocks and eat all of the sunflower seeds before any of the other birds have a chance to eat. Sometimes we're are lucky enough to sight some birds traveling through during migration. They mostly like devouring the berries on a few of the trees in the yard. As a sing of appreciation, ;) the wild birds have planted several beautiful camellias and two gorgeous red maple trees in just the right places. I know where the camellias originally came from as there are a few homes about a mile from us with the same camellias in the front yard. I could do without all the nandina that the birds have planted, but they have given us some decent dogwood trees, so I really can't complain. It amazes me that they put the maple trees in exactly the right place.

If you love bird watching and feeding your local wild birds, I suggest you put out some suet feeders. That will bring in a lot of different species, especially in the winter and breeding season. We replace some of them in the spring and summer with hummingbird feeders. Having natural sources for the birds to feed and nest in also helps make your property into a little wild bird preserve. And, don't forget to have a birdbath with fresh water in it. The birds not only bathe in it, they will come for a drink when the weather is dry.
 

bigfield

the baby-eater

Rather attractive birds. Does the red signify the male or female?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_finch#Breeding

Adults have a long, square-tipped brown tail and are a brown or dull-brown color across the back with some shading into deep gray on the wing feathers. Breast and belly feathers may be streaked; the flanks usually are. In most cases, adult males' heads, necks and shoulders are reddish.

Females are typically attracted to the males with the deepest pigment of red to their head, more so than the occasional orange or yellowish-headed males that sometimes occur.
 

crazyfingers

Super Moderator
Staff member
I had bird feeders for a time. The problem was that around my yard we have about 20 house sparrows for 1 of another bird and the house sparrows would just sit there and throw the seeds on the ground. From there the rodents took over.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

Formerly Joedad
Just put the main feeder back out after disassembling, cleaning, bleaching and rinsing.

House Sparrows? Yes, they are a nuisance and need to be kept under control or other cavity nesters are doomed. They're a very aggressive invasive.
 

Treedbear

Veteran Member
I had bird feeders for a time. The problem was that around my yard we have about 20 house sparrows for 1 of another bird and the house sparrows would just sit there and throw the seeds on the ground. From there the rodents took over.

I gave up on birdfeeders years ago because I could only afford the mixed feed from Walmart that had lots of millet. Between the flocks of starlings completely taking over and making a racket and the blue jays throwing everything on the ground looking for the sunflower seeds, and then attracting rats, I gave it up. But then I discovered birdbaths and so I made two for the front yard. One's on the ground for the larger birds, and one's on top of a wine barrel for the chickadees and finches that are more wary of cats. And I don't mind a bit that the squirrels enjoy it as well. I have hoses going to each on a timer so they get flushed out every night. And I keep mosquitos from breeding with something called Mosquito Bits that's a biological control that's dispensed using an automatic fish feeder after the water change every night. The birds really dig getting in and splashing around. Probably didn't save me any money though when you add everything up.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

Formerly Joedad
We brought the main feeder and platform feeders in a week ago. We bring them in because the house finches will be attracted to them and to the fruit trees. When the fruit trees are in bloom the house finches love to feed on the flowers and the flower buds, and will completely strip the tree of potential fruit. I left two stumps of seeds and water in a location that is away from the fruit trees and the birds use it regularly. But I will remove even those in another couple weeks.

After the fruit trees have had a chance to set fruit I will return the feeders to use as the house finches and house sparrows will leave the fruit alone until it is ripe by which time I will have placed some nets.

Most birds feed caterpillars and insects to their developing young but I will leave the seed out as long as possible.
 

Treedbear

Veteran Member
We brought the main feeder and platform feeders in a week ago. We bring them in because the house finches will be attracted to them and to the fruit trees. When the fruit trees are in bloom the house finches love to feed on the flowers and the flower buds, and will completely strip the tree of potential fruit. I left two stumps of seeds and water in a location that is away from the fruit trees and the birds use it regularly. But I will remove even those in another couple weeks.
...

Why Are Birds Eating My Flowers?
Hummingbirds aren't the only nectar-eaters out there! Tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, and finches also have a taste for the sugary fluid, but don't have the anatomy to gracefully sip as they flutter from bloom to bloom. Instead, these species have to bite flowers off of their stems to access nectar. The voracity with which they process the flowers in their bills may give an appearance of florivory, but they are actually consuming the plant's nectar.
 
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