Sunday 17 November 2019

When birds drop off the perch

Country Matters

A pigeon
A pigeon

Joe Kennedy

TRICHOMONIASIS sounds like an unpleasant affliction, as indeed it is for some species of small songbird.

When contracted it certainly leaves them without song. And much more. They can swallow neither food nor water, so puff up their feathers forlornly and eventually drop off the perch.

For the past 10 years or so, BirdWatch Ireland, the nature charity, has, each winter, received reports about birds suffering from this disease.

The most commonly affected species are finches - greenfinches and chaffinches with some sad sightings of more easily recognised goldfinches. House sparrows, pigeons and doves can be victims also as are, unexpectedly, pheasants.

This disease is not caused by a mystery virus but from an infection with the single-celled protozoan trichomonas gallinae, which results in lesions forming at the back of the throat and in the sinuses.

As the disease develops it becomes ever more difficult for the infected birds to swallow food or to drink. Inevitably this leads to death from starvation and dehydration. But, surprisingly, some birds pull through and survive.

There is no known cure for wild birds infected with a disease which appears to have its sources in neglected feeding areas, dirty feeders and tables where waste seed and meal can congeal, particularly in damp spots caused by rain.

It is important then, if moping, hunched birds are observed, to move food tables and bird baths around and scrub and leave them to dry in the sun. Wildlife-friendly biological disinfectants may be used. All bird food supplies must stop for about 10 days so that birds using the feeders can disperse.

Do not refill feeders until there is no sign of any sick birds about the garden. Not all garden birds are affected - robins and blackbirds appear to be immune - and contact poses no danger to humans or domestic pets.

The emphasis in dealing with this problem is clearly based on environmental hygiene - careful distribution of seed and nuts, fresh water supply daily, clean bird baths. It goes without saying that no food for garden birds should be dispensed on the ground and that any spilling from tables be removed as this attracts vermin with further diseases and problems.

The drill, then, is good hygiene practice all round.

A Dublin reader who was concerned at what she perceived as undergrowth - and therefore bird cover - being cut back in a public park recently was pleasantly surprised by the response of the City Council parks department.

Following an email, a parks official called and made an appointment for an explanatory visit to the particular park where some diseased and problem timber and shrubbery had been removed and new plantings put into place.

Maintaining a wild bird- friendly habitat with water features and the daily use of the park area by dog-exercisers can call for careful balancing and maintenance. Annual cutting back of some cover may be necessary for ecological reasons and birds quickly find other sheltered places and insect concentrations for feeding.

The park department's prompt and courteous response to the reader's concerns in this instance was a commendable gesture of good public relations.

Sunday Independent

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