July 3

Wild Birds – To Feed Or Not To Feed?


Here is a summary of the discussion

Q: About the Lorikeet paralysis disease issues, what's been observed recently in Australia?

A: Lorikeet paralysis syndrome is a very specific disease that occurs during the warmer months of November through June. And in a very specific area of Southern Queensland, South Eastern Queensland, and Northern New South Wales in December, January, and February. Birds are essentially paralyzed as a result of a toxin that is affecting them in these localities.

It can take up to a hundred hundred days for them to recover enough to be released back into the wild. And you can imagine that being in care for that long is a huge stressor on wildlife carers, because caring for those animals takes an enormous amount of time and effort.

The RSPCA in Brisbane gets between 500 and a thousand rainbow lorikeets every year with this disease. So what we're trying to do is to find out what the cause is. And so we have a citizen science project that's up and going.

The second disease that you mentioned was very different and it occurred on the south coast of New South Wales last year. And so if we can reduce the number of birds that have this disease, if we can find out which plants are causing it, then we can encourage people not to plant those plants.

These are Columbia lorikeets. And when they arrived, they were very thin and had diarrhea. And what we discovered in these birds was that they had a severe inflammation of their intestinal tract, and their intestinal tract was nearly completely shut down.

But we're also a little bit suspicious that there might be a virus that infects them initially, and it causes their digestive tract to be damaged. And that bacteria may come along as a secondary infection after that and ultimately kill them.

Q:  With the paralysis syndrome, what do you think of small flock that might be feeding on whichever plant is the cause that is susceptible to knocking out large groups that are all feeding together?

A: There are some areas in these states where lorikeet deaths are more likely to occur, and they are more likely to occur after it rains. It could be due to a preference for what the birds eat. And it's possible that some birds prefer to feed on one thing over another in the areas where they're feeding. So it's clear that in some groups, at least, only a small number are affected.

Q: Do you have any suspicions more likely to be an ornamental horticultural species or that this is something going away with the native plants?

 A study is currently underway to determine whether lorikeets in Southeast Queensland and Northeast New South Wales are being poisoned by toxins from native plants. There are hundreds of toxins in both introduced and native plants, and many of them have the potential to cause the symptoms we're seeing in these birds.

Q: Are there any other species being affected by either of these diseases like Rhino lorikeet in mixed feeding with other lorikeet?

A: In terms of the intestinal infection seen along the coast of Southeast New South Wales this summer and autumn, we occasionally see scaly breasted lorikeets with lower key paralysis. However, I would estimate that less than 1% of the lorikeets that arrive are scaly breasted. Not so much, but rainbow lorikeets are a bit of an aggressive type of bird that other lorikeets tend to avoid, so I'm not sure how much variety there is in the trees, but rainbow lorikeets are the most abundant ones that we have.

Q: Are there any developments about the research on beacon feather disease?

A: Beacon, feather disease, virus, and chlamydia suicide are all thought to be immunosuppressive. However, we found no statistical evidence to support this claim. And it's possible that one or both pathogens aren't as immune-suppressing as previously thought. There's still a lot more research that could be done in this area.

Q: Do you, or does bird life have a view about whether people should be feeding wild birds?

A: The urban bird program tries to give people information on what the risks are to feeding birds, which are primarily around disease transmission and also around malnutrition. While we would rather you created a bird friendly garden, that's going to allow birds to forage naturally recognizing that, there are people that do still do this and trying to give some guidance on how to minimize that risk to wildlife. Most of the time birds don't need to be fed by us. Birds are quite capable of foraging themselves. There are ways to do it responsibly, but really considering whether it is in the best interest of the bird for you to be doing the feeding is really important for individuals to consider. It is illegal for NWA to feed birds.

Q: What advice can you give us about how much seed you can feed the birds to increase the balance of the diet?

A: There are some commercial pellets that are out there that are a complete and balanced diet for most citizen birds. So I would think that if you might try to spread a little of those around, mixed in with a seed first to see whether they would go and eat it. And then if they are eating it, I might encourage you to use the balanced diet that's available commercially.

I might encourage you to put out some beans and peas that are more balanced. Some green peas, some sprouted soybeans, all those kinds of things. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they were quite interested in those. Or it could be like the cockatoo that comes to my veterinary students every day. He loves the sunflower seeds. They even gave him a cucumber and he was very quick to throw that off.

And he wasn't didn't care for that either. So you never know, they might not like what you offer them, but if you are going to try to offer them things, then you might want to try an alternative diet.

Q: Should we really be promoting those as food sources when it comes to planting trees?

A: Birds are a component of either an urban or natural ecosystem, but the urban environment is an ecosystem. As a result, we want to be certain. that what we're doing won't have any unintended consequences. It makes it extremely difficult for an individual to decide whether or not to continue feeding birds. I believe we must learn to live together as a community.

Q; What do we need to be mindful of when providing water?

A: In urban areas, at least there's going to be some sort of water source around that is accessible for birds. I don't know of any research that shows that birds become dependent on an individual water source in a garden. A beautiful pedestal bath that you have dropped, $200 on that is sitting in, out in the middle of a garden is going to provide some water and some bathing opportunities for the birds.

Q: What should we bear in mind with disease transmission when providing water?

A: Keeping the bird path very clean would be essential. Again, it depends on which species you're getting into to have some water or a bus. If you get parrots or cockatoos the virus is transmitted by feather dust by feces. So when that accumulates in the water or at the rim of the bed bath, that could be a source of transmission.

Birds are getting hotter than ever before in their evolutionary history, and being able to cool off is really critical to them on the really hot summer days. One way they might cool off would be by using a sprinkler that they could take a bath in under and moving it around. It's almost more like a natural sort of a water source then, and there's no way that's going to become contaminated with anything.

Q: Who owns the wildlife?

A: They belong to all of us, and they are protected by the government there. You can't do anything to them unless the government gives you permission. So, technically, they are owned by the federal Australian government and are protected by the Australian government.

Header Image - Tatiana Gerus, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


beak and feather disease, BFDV, Birds In Backyards, feeding birds, supplementary feeding

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