Avian Pox and Birdfeeders

Feeding birds at backyard feeders can have benefits. They bring hours of enjoyment, especially for those who are unable to get outside and observe birds in their natural habitat. Some believe that feeding birds can help survival rates for young as well as overwintering birds.

However, along with any benefits, feeding birds can bring challenges. There can be an ethical question: is it responsible to provide artificial food sources for wild birds and perhaps create dependency? In Squamish we can attract bears and other non-avian wildlife if we don’t manage feeders carefully. Crowding at bird feeders can increase the risks of window strikes and of spreading harmful bacteria and other pathogens.

Look closely at the left foot of this juvenile male House Finch. It has a growth which is not yet preventing him from perching. The growth could be a sign he has avian pox, a highly-communicable disease caused by an avipoxvirus.  Birds are protected where they are covered with feathers, but exposed skin which has been abraded can allow the virus to enter. Growths can appear on any unfeathered areas. Birds can survive as long as they are able to eat and drink and in the meantime, they can spread the virus to other birds. 

What can you do to help stop the spread of avian pox? If you see a sick bird or one with a growth:

  • Take down feeders and disinfect them by washing with a solution of 9 parts water with 1 part household bleach.
  • Dispose of seed from the feeders.
  • Disinfect any birdbaths or water sources.
  • Do not refill the feeders or water for at least a week.

And, in general:

  • Clean and disinfect feeders regularly.

For more information, go to the USGS National Wildlife Health Centre  or Cornell’s Feederwatch site.

Photo by Gwen L’Hirondelle: taken near a backyard feeder in Garibaldi Highlands on October 3, 2017.