A Little Sorrow, a Little Joy

Thank you to readers Lisa and Eliza for correctly identifying the songbirds posted in A Tale of Two Wrens. Our feathered guests are House Finches.

Last week I rescued a finch from our walkway. It sat fluffing its feathers but not otherwise moving. I brought him inside, made him a little nest inside our cat carrier and drove to the local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility. I learned a few days later that the sweet little songbird suffered from a highly contagious and generally incurable eye disease called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis or MG. Our rescued finch has been humanely euthanized by the caring folks at Wildlife Center Silicon Valley.

There is small comfort knowing he died in a pair of loving hands. Left on the cold sidewalk he would have surely fallen prey to a cat. Further, since it’s highly contagious, removing any diseased bird from a community gives the others a fighting chance.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Male House Finch with MG, a highly contagious eye disease prevalent in songbirds

Clinical Signs
House finches with mycoplasmal conjunctivitis will exhibit swelling around the eyes, crusty eyelids, and watery ocular and/or nasal discharge. Extreme swelling and crusting can lead to impaired vision and at times blindness. In severe cases, birds may become debilitated, depressed, lose body condition, and die. Some birds can act as carriers of MG while showing no clinical signs of the disease. 
Mycoplasmosis is diagnosed based on clinical signs and the isolation of M. gallisepticum by culture or other laboratory tests. 
Treatment of wild birds with MG is not recommended. Although antibiotics may clear clinical signs, birds can become asymptomatic carriers that can spread the bacteria to new locations. 
Management efforts to control mycoplasmal conjunctivitis in finches focus on transmission prevention. Bird feeders and baths should be kept clean and spaced far enough apart to prevent crowding. Only clean, fresh feed should be provided at feeders. Tube-style feeders seem to be particularly problematic in MG transmission. During outbreaks of mycoplasmosis, bird feeding should be discontinued to eliminate this source of transmission.


We don’t feed song birds via a feeder, but we do have a hanging bird bath and a bubbling fountain. I’ll need to be more diligent keeping them clean. Holly Cormier of the WCSV confirmed that vinegar is just as effective as bleach, and it’s non-toxic. You need to let it sit 15 minutes, then thoroughly rinse with a blast of a garden hose.

Armed with this new information, I was anxious to learn of the wellbeing of our second House Finch. He arrived in December and continues to sleep under the eaves each night. Most nights he’s facing in so I can’t see his face. I finally captured this photo showing no outward signs of MG.

Male House Finch, San Jose, California
Male House Finch Closeup San Jose, California

 His healthy presence brings a bit of joy to each day.

Please consider sharing this post with anyone attracting songbirds to their garden.


34 thoughts on “A Little Sorrow, a Little Joy

    • Thank you, Kate. I always assume “likes” are acknowledgments of the blog and nothing more. Thank you, today and always, for reading and commenting. I’ve done a lot of reading about bird feeders, bird baths, and the songbird epidemic. I would hate to ever be the cause of ill health among birds.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I was wondering how your little rescued fellow was getting on Alys, and although the outcome was not what I was hoping to hear it is still good to know that the wee fellow wasn’t left to the clutches of Mouse, or left to suffer and die alone. I would urge your readers to be aware of using bleach or commercially made products containing it to clean any item that wildlife or pets (or people) come in contact with. The use of white vinegar and baking soda as a general all purpose cleaner cannot be underestimated – it cleans extremely well and does not harm anyone. Thanks so much for the updater and the lovely sparky eyes of your house wren guest. I hope he/she stays a while and stays healthy. xoxo

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Pauline. I agree: vinegar and baking soda work wonders and remain toxin-free. They do suggest that the vinegar sit for 15 minutes prior to scrubbing (in the case of the fountain that can’t be brought inside for cleaning), then covered before rinsing. It’s fairly dilute but still. Years ago my mother gave us all a book called “100 Uses for White Vinegar”. It’s really quite something.

      Like you, I mourn the loss of the tiny bird. I’m once again grateful for the work of this animal rescue group.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am sorry to hear about your wren and happy the other is still well. I’m glad Mouse didn’t get the bird as he may have become ill from it. I use gallons of vinegar to clean with and never use bleach outside. Baking soda and vinegar clean so much and I use vinegar in the coffee maker once a month. I read a book not too long ago called “Britt Marie was Here” by Fredrik Backman. She used baking soda for everything including plants so I looked it up and sure enough, it is good for some plants. I love this writer too. Your little wren was well cared for and sometimes the gentle way they go is preferable to freezing or terror. You did a good thing, Alys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Marlene. It’s funny to me to see manufacturers going back to the basics like vinegar and baking soda. Not only are they effective but they’re inexpensive. I just looked up the book you read and realized he’s the author of A Book Called Ove which is on my reading pile.

      I’m glad the bird died peacefully. His cousin continues to return each night for a snooze. I check to be sure he’s there each night. xo

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you can listen to A Man Called Ove on audible, you will enjoy it even more. I loved it. I’ve read several of his books and another by Jonas Jonasson called The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Hilarious twist on history. I do much more on audible these days. I stopped using chemical cleaners many years ago. I think they contributed to the family lung issues.


        • You may be right on the lung issues, Marlene. It’s terrible what some of these chemicals can do. I’m sorry to hear that.

          A neighbor just dropped off a bag of books for the LFL including the one you just read. Kismet! But, like you, audio books are a great way to get in some “reading” when you’re busy and on the go.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing that information. Your kind heart has helped many birds, Alys, around your place and internationally. I rinse our birdbath, but have never thought to clean it properly. So I will, right now!


  4. Hope your finch stays healthy Alys. We don’t have any feeders, but my parents in the UK have lots of feeders and a bird bath and I know they clean them and the surrounding ground meticulously every day. They also have a hedgehog house where several hedgehogs feed and drink every night, except in the depths of winter! My Dad has to go out and clean up the mess they make (messy eaters!) every morning and fills their bowls with fresh water and food. They spend a fortune on bird and hedgehog food! It is good to know so many people look out for the wildlife in their gardens. 🙂


  5. Oh, dear–a sad ending for that small bird but not as painful as it might’ve been, I suppose. You did a good thing and your post will help protect more birds, I hope. I’m always amazed at the cleaning power of vinegar–we buy it in cases at Sam’s Club!


  6. Hi Alys, I have several hanging feeders but no bird bath because we have a creek right behind the house. I’ll pay particular attention to my finch feeder from now on. Everyone likes it and the suet feeders. I spend a lot of time looking out my window to see who has stopped by. You did a lovely thing for that finch and thanks for sharing what you learned. Take care


    • Hi Amy. Long time, no hear. I hope you and your family are doing well. Aren’t you lucky to have a creek nearby for the birds. That certainly take the worry out of maintaining a bird bath. Aren’t birds wonderful to watch? A few days ago I spotted to finches and a hummingbird at the fountain, one drinking, one bathing and one coming toward the bubbler to check things out. It’s always such a treat.

      Thank you for your kind words.


  7. I’m sorry to hear your rescued bird didn’t make it hon. At least he/she was cared for and not terrorized on the sidewalk. They’re really pretty aren’t they. It’s kind of kismet that your nightly visitor, also a House Wren was kind enough to offer a little extra joy and you finally got a front view and photo. I wonder if they were acquainted.
    I hadn’t heard of MG before. But I wonder if the little birdie I found on our patio also had the same. I held it for a bit and set it under an umbrella with some water. When later I checked, it had passed away. The little bird I found had a lot of crust around it’s beak. But the eye’s looked normal.
    I never use cleaner in our bird bath and just scrub with a harsh brush then spray with the garden hose. I think I’ll invest in a water wobbler too, just to keep the water moving. I love birds, I really feel for them in the weather we’re having. But, since they’re here every day, I can only suppose they have a nightly spot to snuggle up and stay warm. xoxo


    • Thank you, sweet Boomdee. I found another dead bird a few days ago in the front garden. It was hard to see how it died, and it had been a few days so I’ll never know. Mouse is inside (or in the protracted back yard) full time now so it wasn’t him. My under the eaves house finch is still coming each night. He arrives later and later as the days grow longer, which is interesting in and of itself. I just love his quiet presence. I try to open and close the mailbox as quietly as possible so I don’t startle him, but he’s used to me know and doesn’t fly away.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Eliza. I’m happy to report that my regular visitor is still sleeping under the eaves. I check on him every evening. He arrives later and later as the days are now longer. It will be interesting to know if he ventures away for a mate come spring.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a very interesting and helpful post, Alys, so thank you! I have several hummingbird feeders and I’m very careful to keep them clean, but the other multiple feeders are so active I never let them get empty enough to clean them. I will need to come up with a plan! I’m so glad your little finch was well cared for, and although it’s sad, his ending was gentle. We do love our little creatures, don’t we? 🙂


    • We do, Debra! We wash the hummingbird feeders in between filling since the sugar water is inheritently sticky. We have several, though, so it’s easiest to wash them all at once. I can’t imagine a world with out birds.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Really good information; I don’t know if the disease is here in Canada but the importance of keeping feeders clean can’t be stressed enough. You did everything you could for the little finch and doing the research and writing so that others can learn about the disease is extremely helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

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