Jul 12, 2017 | Featured Web Article

A House Finch with Puffy Eyes is at My Birdfeeder. What Should I Do?

While observing the avian visitors at your feeders, take note of symptoms that might indicate a sick bird.

Mycoplasmosis is an eye disease caused by a bacterium. House finches are most susceptible, but goldfinches and other feeder birds can be infected, also. Symptoms include swollen, crusty eyes. Birds eventually go blind, and, unable to find food, starve.

The bacterium remains infectious for 12 to 24 hours on the surface of feeders, so as soon as you see a bird with puffy, sick-looking eyes, take down all your seed feeders for a week or so to encourage sick birds to disperse. Healthy birds will find other food sources; they won't starve! (You can leave your nectar feeders in place, unless finches have been imbibing from them.)

To clean the feeders, first remove all accumulated debris and gunk. Wash the feeders thoroughly—in a sanitizing dishwasher (with no other dishes), if possible, or hand wash with soap and boiling water, or in a nine-to-one water-to-bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly and let them dry. Again, wait a week or so before refilling and rehanging your feeders.

Meanwhile, rake debris from under the feeders. Scoop it up and throw it in the trash to remove another potential source of contamination.

While the Mycoplasma bacterium is present in your neighborhood, wash your feeders weekly, and be careful not to allow birdseed to spoil in your feeders. Offer less seed-only what the birds consume in one day. Even when you no longer see sick birds, remember to replace seed before it spoils, and to wash your feeders regularly.

Sadly, even if sick birds are treated with antibiotics, they are rarely cured and can carry the disease for the rest of their lives. For that reason, wildlife rehabilitators are reluctant to invest time and effort on birds with conjunctivitis caused by mycoplasmosis.

About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson III is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest by day. He's also a keen birder, the author of many books, a dad, a field trip leader, an ecotourism consultant, a guitar player, and blogger.

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  • Scrub Jay's are the best!!!
    by Iris Delgado, Thu, 09 May 2019
  • How can I separate nyler seeds from hulls finshes kick out? They toss out so much expensive seed along with the hulls of the seeds they have eaten. How can I separate them so I can return the still whole seeds back into the feeder?
    by Seen From Here, Sat, 04 May 2019
  • We had some cases of what I think was avian trichomonosis here this summer in central NY. Are you hearing anything about that? My understanding is that even the hawks can get it from consuming infected song birds.
    by D.Mac, Sat, 04 May 2019
  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019