Unintended consequences, good intentions, and dead greenfinches (Warning – Dead Bird Photos)

I have used this blog as a sort of journal of various observations on bird feeding.  Unfortunately, and humblingly, I have realised that my bird feeding activity has in fact been doing the precise opposite of what I hoped. Killing, not preserving life.

I was familiar with Trichomonas infections– an condition which especially effects greenfinches – and had washed and even replaced my feeders fairly regularly, I had thought  (but far from regularly enough)

A few weeks ago I saw some definite cat / hawk kills in the garden with evident wounds.   There were also a couple of less evidently predator related deaths. Foolishly I put these down to cat activity also, based on dim memories of cats killing birds but not eating them. I also wondered if there was some dehydration going on given recent hot weather and redoubled putting out water.

I had noticed also that sometimes the greenfinches seemed to have a few seeds in their beak at the same time, a little like what can be seen in the above. In retrospect, this should have tipped me off the something was wrong.

Finally yesterday, having found two dead greenfinches – one of which was entirely unmarked, the other of which had some plumage damage. I realised what was up. The advice from Birdwatch Ireland and the RSPB is to remove feeders and bowls and wait at least two weeks to put out food again (with cleaned feeders). The BTO advice is as follows:

Rotate positions of feeders in the garden to prevent the build up of contamination in any one area of ground below the feeders. Empty and air dry any bird baths on a daily basis. You may wish to consider stopping feeding if you have an outbreak of the disease at your feeding station, in an attempt to force the birds to feed elsewhere at a lower density (although in reality they may end up visiting another feeding station and possibly one where no hygiene measures are in place.

It is humbling and sobering to realise that an activity that you thought was helpful and in some way kind, and also had put some thought into in terms of what kind of feed to put out etc (and it wasn’t that I didn’t know about Trichomonas infections and try to take some steps to prevent them), can end up doing the opposite of what is intended.

I am not sure if this bird is the same as the one photographed above, but I fear it is.  Apart from other lessons, in future I will think more carefully and analytically about dead birds in my garden… and clean/replace feeders much more systematically.

One thought

  1. Reblogged this on A Medical Education and commented:

    So this is something I posted on my other blog. During what was a busy day it sometimes came to me that there are parallels between this story and what can happen in medicine, and healthcare generally. I would like to think I am helping people and doing what I can to practice safely. And I imagine that, if such were possible, the greenfinches would have given me pretty good feedback… but in the end, rather than helping them live, I killed them.

    It made me think particularly of polypharmacy and the need to consider the overall system you are intervening in when you are suggesting or making even the smallest change in a patients life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s