Contagious Eye Disease Strikes Common Backyard Birds in Bay Area

Contagious Eye Disease Strikes Common Backyard Birds in Bay Area

Birdwatchers advised to take down feeders and birdbaths.

Bird enthusiasts who see house finches with red, swollen and crusty eyes at their backyard bird feeders and baths are being advised to take them down, the East Bay Times reports.

Officials at Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital in Walnut Creek say they are seeing more cases than normal of the highly contagious house finch eye disease, which can cause blindness in finches and some other birds. They say the birds are coming from throughout the region.

The best way to prevent the spread of the disease, a kind of highly contagious conjunctivitis, is to temporarily remove feeders and baths where it is seen.

Aireo Shipman, manager of Lindsay’s wildlife hospital, says, “Bird feeders and bird baths concentrate large numbers of birds, so they congregate there and then the disease is passed rapidly.”

Shipman says that when birds with the disease are identified at a bird feeder or bath, feeders should be taken down and spilled seed raked up. “Then birds will return to foraging normally and it greatly reduces the chance of other birds getting the disease,” he says. “Bird baths should be taken down as well and cleaned.”

The infection is caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum, which is common in domestic turkeys and chickens. It was first observed in house finches in 1994, and the disease has spread to American goldfinches, evening grosbeaks and purple finches. In extreme cases it can cause blindness.

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