Help prevent House Finch disease

House Finches may become infected with a bacterial eye disease, avian conjunctivitis, that causes red, swollen, runny, or crusty eyes. Purple Finches, Goldfinches, and other birds may become infected as well.

House-finch-with-eye-disease-2-500x356
Photo by Stanton Hunter

In extreme cases the eyes become swollen shut and the bird becomes blind. You might observe an infected bird sitting quietly in your yard, clumsily scratching an eye against its foot or a perch. Birds will often sit fluffed up as their energy reserves diminish. While some infected birds recover, most die from starvation, exposure, or predation.

Avian conjunctivitis easily spreads at bird feeders. When a sick bird finds a feeder, it may be reluctant to leave that food source because it cannot see. Healthy birds pick up the infection and spread it to other feeders.

You can help reduce the spread of the disease by following this routine to disinfect your bird feeders:

  • Twice each week allow the seed to empty in the feeder.
  • Clean any debris and bird droppings from the feeder.
  • Clear the feeder and soak it in a solution of one part bleach to 30 parts water solution for 15 minutes.
  • Rinse the feeder and allow it to completely dry before refilling it with fresh seed.

Also consider removing your bird feeders this time of year, when the food birds need is naturally abundant.

10 Comments on “Help prevent House Finch disease

  1. Hi Christine – The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a reliable source of information about finch eye disease. This is what they have to say about treating an infected bird:

    “By law, only licensed professionals are authorized to handle most wild birds. Although it is possible to treat finches with conjunctivitis, you should not add medications to bird seed or baths under any circumstances. There is no way to know if medication actually helps birds in uncontrolled conditions, and such treatment may in fact contribute to disease spread by allowing infected birds to survive longer. Treatment with antibiotics may also lead to the rapid evolution of novel strains of the disease that could possibly spread to other songbirds.”

    The Lab encourages people to take down their feeders for a week or so if they see sick birds, so the birds disperse and have less chance of infecting others. Then clean feeders using a dishwasher on a hot setting, or wash with soap and boiling water, a diluted bleach solution, or a weak vinegar solution (10%). Remove any build-ups of dirt around the food openings. Rinse and dry the feeders before rehanging them. Also rake up old seed and bird droppings beneath feeders, and continue to clean the feeders every week or so.

    You can find more information at https://feederwatch.org/learn/house-finch-eye-disease/

    Locally, PAWS provides information about bird diseases and wildlife rehabilitators: https://www.paws.org/resources/providing-safe-food-and-water-for-birds/

    Sarah Driggs

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  2. Can I microwave bird thistle seed to kill And stop the spread of salmonella or conjunctivitis ?
    Will microwaving birdseed affect the nutrition value?

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    • Thanks for your question and your concern about keeping birds healthy. Although microwaving bird seed might kill bacteria while retaining nutritional value, once the seed is in the feeder it could still become moldy or contaminated, and the feeder itself could have bacteria. The most important things you can do to prevent bird diseases are to clean the feeders frequently and clean up the debris under the feeders. If you see diseased birds, it’s best to take down your feeder for a week or two to help prevent the spread of bacteria. Here’s a link to more information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-to-clean-your-bird-feeder

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  3. Pingback: Help protect wild birds from deadly salmonellosis - North Central Washington Audubon Society

  4. It’s very frustrating. I took down my feeders. Then, after starting to use them, clean very often. But I am still seeing a couple finches that have eye problems. I feel that the birds need to eat, so I don’t want to stop feeding, especially in winter. I feel that the neighbors feeders may be contributing so I am printing this out and leaving in their mailboxes. (Apt. Complex)
    Jean

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    • Jean – Thank you for caring so much about birds, and especially for watching carefully for eye problems. As you consider taking down your feeders to reduce the spread of pathogens, it might help you to know that birds which use feeders don’t depend entirely on that source. Recent studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania State University found that even the most feeder-habituated birds forage for at least 80 percent of their diet. So if you remove your feeders for a couple of weeks, the birds will forage elsewhere and be OK, and will return when you put up your feeders again.
      Sarah Driggs

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      • Hi Sarah, yes but they will almost certainly go to neighbors’ feeders as well as foraging. I think that’s the problem.
        I’ve been throwing seed on the ground, trying to use different parts of the yard, to scatter it out .
        Thanks

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Can this disease be passed onto cats and dogs. If yes explain how., will it cause the same damage/blindness in our pets.
    Can humans get it ?
    I thought pink eye was contagious to man, pets, and birds/other animals.
    If no, explain why ? And are you sure?
    Mixed information on the internet

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