Sunday, August 14, 2011


Over the past weeks we've had many more birds than usual in our yards and at our feeders and birdbaths. This has made for entertaining viewing but it has also led to a major problem: avian pox. This is a disease that can spread quickly from individual to individual when birds are sharing (and pooping on) feeders and birdbaths. It is particularly prevalent among House Finches, of which we have a bumper crop this year. While not usually fatal, avian pox typically causes temporary blindness, which obviously increases an affected bird's chances of dying from predation, hunger and/or thirst.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that we had a couple of juvenile House Finches that were blind as a result of avian pox. We kept filling (and cleaning) our feeders and birdbaths in the hope that these birds would recover and both of them have coped remarkably well. However, on Monday I noticed that another young Finch was having eye problems. Then I spotted an adult male Finch hiding, blind, in one of the flower beds.

As the pox was clearly spreading throughout our flock of Finches and could have even affected our other yard visitors, we took down our feeders and emptied the birdbaths.

The next several days were really very sad as we watched bird after bird arrive in our yards and search in vain for the feeders, or check out the top of our fence for peanuts, or fly onto the birdbaths only to find they were empty. And it was totally heartbreaking to watch the blind Finches fluttering desperately around where the feeders had been and to know that we might well have condemned them to death from hunger and thirst.

By yesterday our yards were almost empty of birds all day. The only ones we saw were a pair of Carolina Chickadees foraging in the leaves of a yucca and the occasional White-winged Dove sitting forlornly on one of our fences.

However, there has been one good effect. Our American Beautyberry had been ignored as a food source, even though it was covered in plump berries. When I looked yesterday, it had been absolutely stripped of fruit. So some of birds - perhaps the Northern Mockingbirds and Cardinals - had clearly reverted to looking for natural food in our yards.

We're going to leave our feeders down and birdbaths empty for at least another week. Hopefully by then the Finches will have been dispersed for long enough for the pox to have subsided. Then we will experiment with putting out a little food and water but will watch to make sure that the House Finches do not return en masse. In the meantime we're certainly going to miss them and our other regular visitors.


Birdwoman said...

How very sad for you and the birds. I think you did the right thing which must have been very hard for you. I've been on the lookout for pox in the birds in my yard, but haven't noticed any birds with symptoms. It does seem to be a disease that affects House Finches disproportionately and I don't have that many finches in my yard. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that my birds seem to have escaped the problem so far.

Dave said...

Things will work out Jeff, they are resourcefull creatures, but in the mean time you are reducing the risk of spreading disease and hopefully the strong birds will return fit and healthy fairly soon.