by Linda Winnie
At the December FAS meeting, several people reported seeing House Finches with infected eyes at their feeders – partially or fully closed, red, swollen, or crusty. Most likely these birds were suffering from avian conjunctivitis, a bacterial infection that can affect any songbird, but occurs frequently in finches.
If you see a bird with an infected eye at your feeders, you need to take action immediately in order to keep the disease from spreading.
1. Throw away all the bird seed that was in your feeders, and rake up the seed on the ground under your feeders and dispose of it.
2. Take down all your feeders and clean and disinfect them. Cornell Lab says you can use your dishwasher to do this if you can take the feeder apart. Disassemble the feeder and wash all the pieces in the dishwasher on the hot setting. Or wash the feeder with boiling water and soap, or with a dilute bleach solution. (Many sources suggest 1 part bleach to 30 parts water; some say that to disinfect, you should also soak the feeder in this bleach solution for 15 minutes.) Rinse thoroughly after washing. Leave the feeders down for a few days to allow the infected birds to disperse.
3. Report the diseased bird to Project Feeder Watch if you are a participant. They are tracking the disease across the U.S.
4. Let FAS know when you see an infected bird. Drop us a note on our Contact Us page saying when and where you saw the bird, and what species it was. We will keep track of where the disease is occurring in the Flathead, and how many birds are being affected, and report these results in a future issue of the Post.
Even if you have not spotted an infected bird at your feeders, you should be cleaning your feeders at least once a month. Be sure to let them dry thoroughly before rehanging.
For more information about the disease, including its history and current distribution, see www.allaboutbirds.org/news/house-finch-eye-disease-outbreak-then-understanding/ (Cornell Lab) or https://feederwatch.org/learn/house-finch-eye-disease/.