RUSSELLVILLE — House finches, those numerous red-streaked and brown-streaked birds all over Arkansas, have been hit by an outbreak of a disease that may be spawned at bird feeders.
Karen Rowe, nongame migratory bird program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the disease is house finch mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. It has been reported recently in several parts of Arkansas — Russellville, Clarksville, Fayetteville and Little Rock.
Although infected birds have swollen eyes, the disease is primarily a respiratory infection, according to Cornell University’s Ornithology Laboratory.
Recent warm weather coupled with rainfall could be a factor in the Arkansas outbreaks, Rowe said. "There is an abundance and good variety of fruiting plants and insects for the birds to feed on, and putting out feeders simply concentrates birds in an area so we can enjoy observing them. The problem with concentrating birds at feeders is that it allows the disease to spread from bird to bird. Persons with bird baths and feeders should take them down, wash them out with a 10 percent bleach solution (one part bleach and nine parts water) and keep them down for at least three weeks to allow the disease to run its course."
She added, "It would be a good idea to rake up any old feed that’s on the ground and dispose of it where the birds will not come in contact with it."
The disease cannot be transmitted to humans or pets. The disease is spread to bird to bird contact with each other and by contact with surfaces touched by an infected bird, such as feeder perches or seeds themselves.
Male house finches have red-streaked heads, necks and breasts. Female and juvenile house finches are brown-streaked in these areas of their bodies.
These birds were introduced to the eastern portion of the United States when some caged house finches from California, known as "Hollywood Finches," were sold to people on Long Island, New York, in the 1940s. When laws changed and it became illegal to sell and own American songbirds, these captive finches were released. Their descendants now occupy most of the eastern U.S. and are spreading westward toward the original range of the species.
House finches and purple finches, which are native to Arkansas, are somewhat similar in appearance. House finches are year-round residents in the state, and purple finches are here from mid-October to mid-April.