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Drop Dead Gorgeous Birds

Author Jess Price

finches at the feeder / Neil Fletcher
finches at the feeder / Neil Fletcher

In late summer and autumn I often get phone calls from people concerned because they have been finding dead or sick birds in their garden. It is always disturbing to see animals dying and the natural human instinct is to ask is there anything I can do?

Why are the birds getting sick?

Birds use up a lot of energy and resources in spring and summer building nests and raising young, so by the end of summer they are often very run down. Like in humans, this can lower their immune system and make them more vulnerable to infections. Additionally the chance of a disease spreading between individuals is greatly increase when birds flock together at feeding sites. As birds are generally far less territorial outside of the breeding season outbreaks are more likely to occur.

Apart from finding corpses, what should I look out for?

Top five hygiene tips when feeding garden birds

  • Use a couple of different feeding sites in your garden so that birds aren’t all gathering in just one spot.
  • Move feeders around to prevent a build up of contaminated food on the ground below.
  • Try not to put the feeder under anything that birds regularly roost in as it could become contaminated with droppings.
  • Wearing gloves, regularly clean and disinfect bird tables, baths and feeders. Brushes and equipment used for cleaning bird feeders should not be used for other purposes and should be kept and used outside
  • Try not to provide more food then the birds need. Let the food run out rather then keep topping it up as food at the bottom will go off or become contaminated. Try to sweep off droppings and uneaten food from bird tables each day.

Different illnesses cause different symptoms. For example, avian pox is a viral skin infection that causes red growths on the head and neck of birds, whilst trichomonosis is caused by a parasite that lives in the digestive tract of birds. Infected individuals have problems swallowing and will often have food and saliva around their beak and face. Other general symptoms of illness are lethargy and slower reactions. Sick birds also often fluff up their feathers in an attempt to conserve energy.

What can I do to help a sick bird?

Unfortunately wild birds cannot be treated for disease because it is too difficult to ensure that the medicine goes to the right birds in the right dosages. It is also difficult to diagnose a bird from observation alone.

The best thing you can do is to temporally stop feeding birds in your garden and disinfect everything. You do not want birds to congregate together in your garden as this will allow the disease to spread to healthy individuals. This means removing feeders and emptying bird baths. Once you stop seeing dead/sick birds you can start feeding again.

Help scientist study garden bird disease by filling out the British Trust for Ornithology’s online diseased bird questionnaire.

Feed the birds this season

Buy wild bird food and raise money for local wildlife.

If you are in Sussex 5% of all purchases made through Vine House Farm Bird Foods goes to Sussex Wildlife Trust, if you are outside of the county the funds will go to your nearest Wildlife Trust.

Autumnwatch 2012

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