Frequently asked questions for a deadly parasite affecting birds

Below are frequently asked questions for a deadly parasite, Trichomonas gallinae, affecting birds and what you can do to help.

Trichomonas gallinae (avian trichomoniasis) is a microscopic parasite most often affecting pigeons and doves that can also affect other birds, such as finches, wild turkeys and raptors. The parasite often infects the upper digestive tract and some internal organs. Infected birds may have difficulty swallowing, eating and breathing, and frequently present symptoms such as lethargy, loss of balance and weight, and the ability to stand. Ruffled or fluffed-up plumage, matted wet plumage around the face and beak, and excessive salivation can also be symptoms of infection.

Trichomoniasis can be spread in three ways:

  • An infected parent feeding their young
  • Drinking contaminated water/eating contaminated food
  • Infected prey being consumed by a raptor

While it is not viable in the environment for long, bird feeders and baths are common transmission points, as they attract many birds in close proximity to each other, which can lead to rapid transmission of trichomoniasis between individuals.

Cleaning and disinfecting food and water sources such as bird feeders and baths regularly is an excellent way to prevent the spread of trichomoniasis. It is recommended that bird feeders and baths be washed with a weak solution of domestic bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite) and that they be thoroughly rinsed and allowed to air-dry completely before re-use.

Daily replacement of drinking water with fresh and clean water and periodic replacement of food will also help limit the spread of trichomoniasis. Additionally, the position of feeders should be alternated to avoid a build-up of contaminated food in any one area (e.g., food that falls to the ground). Platform feeders should not be used.

If trichomoniasis is confirmed in your area, in addition to the above measures, ensure that bird baths are left empty until such a time as no infected or dead birds have been observed for a period of at least two weeks. Removing feeders for two to four weeks is also recommended as it encourages birds to disperse, minimizing the chance of transmission between individuals. Feeders can then be reintroduced although it is important to continue to monitor for any sign of infection.

Avian trichomoniasis is not known to be a threat to humans or other mammals; however, using sensible hygienic practices (e.g., wearing gloves and handwashing) when dealing with bird feeders and baths, and avoiding direct contact with sick or dead birds is strongly recommended. It should also be noted that mammals, such as cats and dogs, are immune to avian trichomoniasis whereas the disease can be transmitted to captive birds (e.g., pet birds or poultry).

If you find a sick or dead bird, you should report it to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative; see their website to find the nearest regional centre and for instructions on how to handle and transport a found dead bird. The application of paragraph 6(b) of the Migratory Birds Regulations has been varied to allow the possession of found dead migratory birds for the purposes of swiftly transporting them to provincial or territorial authorities for analysis without the need to obtain a permit.

Date modified: