Keeping Your Backyard Birds Healthy This Spring and Summer

The spring migration of birds is currently underway and soon we will be treated to the familiar sights and sounds of returning bird species to their northern breeding grounds. Many people encourage species to frequent their yards by providing food and water. While this is a seemingly innocuous activity, feeding birds can increase the risk of disease transmission.

During the spring/summer of 2017 significant outbreaks of trichomonosis occurred across Atlantic Canada, southern Quebec, and Ontario. Over 100 incidents from across six provinces were reported to the CWHC-RCSF during this time; the locations of which are available to view through our trichomonosis surveillance map. More recently dozens of reports of birds exhibiting signs of infection with mycoplasmosis have been reported to the CWHC in Quebec in February 2018 (Blog article: English, French). These cases are available to view on our mycoplasmosis surveillance map.

Purple finch, a species commonly affected during outbreaks of trichomonosis.

While we discourage the supplemental feeding of birds, if you choose to do so please help prevent the spread of disease through bird feeders and water sources by following our recommended precautions:

Frequently monitor your backyard birds for signs of illness.

During known outbreaks of disease please remove bird feeders and baths. Ideally, for outbreaks that occur during the winter/spring leave feeders down until the first warm weather and emergence of insects in the summer; for summer/fall outbreaks it is best to leave feeders down until after the first prolonged period of cold weather and frost of the winter. During the summer months there is plenty of natural food and water available for birds.

Clean your bird feeders and baths regularly. A weak solution of domestic bleach (10% sodium hypochlorite) should be used to disinfect feeders and baths. Feeders should be rinsed well and dried before re-use.

Clean up any spilled seed from below your feeders to discourage birds from feeding on the ground and to avoid encouraging pest species (i.e. rats/mice) from frequenting your yard.

Only use bird feeders that prevent the seed from getting wet. Bird seed that is exposed to rain and becomes wet is a more suitable environment for the potential survival of the parasite. Avoid using table feeders or feeding birds on the ground, sick birds sitting directly on bird seed are more likely to contaminate it with Trichomonas gallinae.

Feed the correct foods.

If possible, consider wildlife friendly landscaping to encourage birds to visit your yard as opposed to bird feeders.

Report any sick or dead birds to your nearest Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative regional centre.

American goldfinch, a species that has been affected during recent outbreaks of trichomonosis and mycoplasmosis.

Wild birds may be affected by diseases that can potentially spread to people and pets (for example, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli). It is therefore important to take the following precautions when cleaning bird feeders:

Brushes and equipment used to clean bird feeders and baths must not be used for other purposes. Keep them outside and away from food preparation areas.

Wear rubber gloves when cleaning bird feeders and wash your hands and forearms thoroughly with soap and water, especially before eating and drinking.

Avoid handling sick or dead birds directly with bare hands.

You can find additional information on common diseases that may be transmitted through bird feeders and bird baths in our fact sheets, infographics, and technical documents linked below:

Trichomonosis Fact Sheet: English, French

Salmonellosis Fact Sheet

Mycoplasmosis Fact Sheet

Backyard Bird Health Note

Reduce Spread of Disease Among Backyard Birds Infographic

Strategies to Prevent and Control Bird Feeder Associated Diseases and Threats


Additionally, as highlighted in our recent blog article on wildlife trauma, birds are severely affected by traumatic incidents. Collisions with windows and vehicles, and predation by domestic cats represent the most common and most preventable causes of trauma to birds.

For detailed information on how you can reduce the risk of bird injury and death from these forms of trauma follow the links below to our infographics and technical documents:

Reduce Risk of Window Collisions

Reduce Risk of Vehicular Collisions

Strategies to Prevent and Control Bird Feeder Associated Diseases and Threats


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *