Eating At Feeders Increases Birds?Risk Of Illness, Spreading Disease, Says Research Team

Wild songbirds that eat at feeders are more likely to contract eye disease and spread it to other birds.

An international research team led by scientists from Virginia Tech found that house finches who eat from bird feeders are at increased risk of contracting eye disease (Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis), Virginia Tech News reports. Birds infected with this disease have swollen and red eyes. The condition can lead to blindness. Because the birds can? see, the disease also results in death.

“Our results suggest that in this species, a few individuals ?those that like eating at feeders ?are likely very important in driving disease epidemics,?Dana Hawley, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate and member of the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech said. “If this is true for other wildlife species as well, we may be able to more effectively reduce disease by targeting these ?igh risk?individuals.?lt;/span>

The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, involved equipping house finches with a bar-coded chip that monitored each time the birds visited the feeder. The monitoring took place over the course of a winter. If two barcodes were recorded at the same time, researchers knew that two birds were eating together.

“We expected birds that were more central in the social network, or had more friends, to catch the disease, because previous research has found that this was important for accessing information about where food is located. But, we found instead that it was birds?feeding preferences that were most important,?Damien Farine, a postdoctoral researcher with a joint appointment at the University of Oxford and the University of California-Davis and co-author of the study said.

If you like feeding birds, this doesn? mean you have to stop. Having a bird feeder helps birds survive the winter season. The researchers who conducted the study recommend cleaning and disinfecting bird feeders every time they?e refilled, according to Virginia Tech News.

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