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.
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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, was the team captain for Watching Backyard Birds from its inception 23 years ago through his death on March 25, 2019. So much of what he wrote is timeless and remains informative, helpful, and inspiring.

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  • That doesn't address my concern about the bird houses. I'm on a tiny piece of property (40x100) so there's not much room to plant a heck of a lot or places birds could put nests once the bird houses are gone.
    by Linda DiPierro, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Plant some native plants in your yard that will attract pollinators and produce berries and nuts. There should be a local society that has a list of recommended plants, shrubs, and trees.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Same concerns here. See above post. For your situation I would consider planting a few native plants that will naturally produce berries and seeds that the birds in your area need to survive. Try planting some that will yield foods for all seasons.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • I've thought about this myself. One thing I considered doing is leaving behind some bird food and a gift card to my local wild bird store with a note asking the new homeowners to please continue feeding the birds. Don't know how well that work but it's worth a try.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • thanks for the article. I believe that I may have spotted my first hairy woodpecker this morning. we see the downy woodpecker often. it's small. the hairy woodpecker, when compared with the downy, is HUGE. also, the downy feeds at the feeder like most birds--standing upright. This bird, because of its size, hung from the feeder perch with most of it's body below the feeder--like the red belly woodpeckers that we see often. we live is strasburg va. is it possible that we saw a hairy woodpecker this morning?
    by PEretired, Sat, 23 May 2020