Garden bird disease on the rise again?

Chaffinch, Isle of Man (Neil G. Morris)
Male Chaffinch - one of our familiar and colourful garden birds that is affected by Trichomonosis disease (Neil G. Morris)

Are you seeing or finding sick, dying or dead birds around your bird table or bird bath? As wild birds gather once again to feed and bathe in our gardens this autumn, Manx BirdLife has received a number of reports of unhealthy-looking birds with swollen and puffed-up faces that are possibly suffering from Trichomonosis infection.

It is impossible to know whether the current outbreak in the Isle of Man is significantly worse than in previous autumns. However, Manx BirdLife is asking everyone who feeds their garden birds to take precautions to minimise the risk of the disease spreading. Most recently, there have been reports from the North of the Island, particularly around the Andreas area.

What is Trichomonosis?

Trichomonas gallinae is a microscopic parasite that affects many species of birds, but does not pose a health risk to humans or their mammalian pets.

Greenfinches and Chaffinches are reported most frequently, along with House Sparrow, Dunnock, Great Tit and Siskin. The disease is also known as ‘canker’ when seen in pigeons and doves and as ‘frounce’ when seen in birds of prey. It has been known as a disease of cage birds for some time.

The Trichomonad parasite lives in the upper digestive tract of the bird. It causes lesions and swelling that slowly blocks the bird’s throat, eventually making it unable to swallow food. Infection is spread via the bird’s saliva. At bird feeding stations and other communal areas such as bird baths, the disease is transmitted when food or water is contaminated with the saliva of an infected bird.

The outward signs of infection include swelling around the face and throat, lethargy and fluffed-up plumage, drooling saliva and regurgitated food. Affected birds frequently have matted wet plumage around the face and beak and uneaten food in and around the beak.

What can you do to stop the spread of infection?

The more birds you have frequently visiting your bird feeder or bath, the greater the chance of other birds becoming diseased - picking up infected food particles or being exposed to infection through shared water or direct contact with each other.

If any of the birds in your garden show symptoms, Manx BirdLife suggests you stop putting out food and water for at least three weeks. This will encourage feeding birds to disperse, reducing the contact between sick and healthy individuals, hopefully slowing down the outbreak. 

The parasite cannot live for long outside of its host. So the following actions will help to significantly reduce the risk of disease:

  • Using feeders with drainage holes to avoid moisture building up;
  • Using more than one feeding site to reduce the number of birds in one place;
  • Rotating feeders around several locations to ‘rest’ each spot to prevent build-up of infection on the ground underneath;
  • Cleaning and disinfecting feeders and water baths regularly, rinsing thoroughly and allowing to air-dry completely (this itself will kill many other potential diseases);
  • Keeping the bucket and brush you use to clean feeders outside and using them just for this purpose;
  • Sweeping up droppings and spilt or old food, disposing carefully of these in an outside bin;
  • Changing the water in baths frequently, ideally daily;

Remember to always wash your hands carefully afterwards.

Can diseased birds be treated?

Sadly, there is no effective treatment for birds in the wild. It is impossible to ensure that infected individuals receive an adequate dose and that healthy birds do not pick up the medicine.

It is advisable always to practise good hygiene around feeding stations and bird baths. Wild birds can be affected by a variety of diseases, and deaths of garden birds can be caused by many other pathogens. Products such as Ark-Klens and Ring Pull Feeders are good for maintaining hygiene and are available from garden centres and the RSPB’s online store.

And remember, thoroughly drying food containers and bird baths, as well as keeping seed feed dry will kill the Trichomonosis parasite.

Treating and reporting infected garden birds

If you find sick or dead birds in your garden, there are two things can you do:

  1. Arrange to take any listless birds that you can capture to Manx Wild Bird Aid who have medication for the disease – though early treatment is essential as the disease is difficult to treat in its later stages. Call 07624 473582/247666 or see
  2. Help us to monitor the spread and intensity of this outbreak by telling Manx BirdLife (, 01624 861130) what is happening to the birds in your garden. You can also visit the Garden Wildlife Heath website at (an RSPB, BTO, ZSL and Froglife initiative) and fill in the disease recording form. Thank you.