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. 
Diagnosis
Mycoplasmosis is diagnosed based on clinical signs and the isolation of M. gallisepticum by culture or other laboratory tests. 
Treatment
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
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.

https://www.northeastwildlife.org/disease/avian-mycoplasmosis

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.

 

Speckled Eggs

Pittosporum with Nest

Pittosporum with Nest

When I climbed the brick patio steps of a potential client last week I startled a little brown bird. She hopped along my path, then the low wall and finally flew away toward the garden.

I started a project at the same home this week, and again spotted the bird. This time she flew from the low branches of a potted Pittosporum. The jangling of keys in the door must have startled her. She flew out like a shot, surprising us both. When it happened a third time, I knew their had to be a nest.

With my camera in hand, and mama bird elsewhere, I peered into the dense leaves. Nothing.

Assuming I’d imagined the whole thing, I took one last look and there it was: a tiny, hair-lined nest and five speckled eggs.  Goosebumps!

Bird's Nest Closeup Bird's Nest with eggs

Much like Sarah The Gardener, and her ‘stolen’ chic, I’ve found myself feeling responsible for the tiny eggs.  Will mama bird continue to visit the nest with these frequent interruptions?  Is this the first time she made her home there, or does she come back every year?  I want to be sure to notify the movers so they don’t accidentally jostle the nest.  It’s a mere arm’s length from the front door, protected from the elements but not from the sudden jolt of a box of dishes or the end of a couch.

I’ve searched the web for ways to identify the eggs, and possible gestation, but it’s been tricky.  I think I’ve narrowed it down, but hope to get one more look at mama bird tomorrow to help me decide.

Any guesses?

Update: My friend Sheila forwarded the photos to Larry Jordan of The Birders Report to see if he could help. Larry quickly identified the probable bird as a Dark-eyed Junco.

Related Articles:

House Finch (native to the Bay Area)

Los Gatos Birdwatcher Partners

If you’re as fascinated with nests as I am, this site is for you.  Larry has an extensive photo library of bird eggs and nests with guidelines for identifying (without ever disturbing) the mama-bird and her clutch.

Bird’s Nest Webcams:

Bolsa Chica Nest Cam

Phoebe Allans Nest Cam