Bird Feeders the Dark Side
There are millions of bird feeders in the United States. They provide a needed source of food to birds, especially in the winter, but some bird feeders may also be helping to spread disease. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet
Hawley: So we study a songbird that’s been affected by a pinkeye pathogen, that has caused population declines in this bird species. We want to understand where the birds were picking up this disease. We approached bird feeders because these birds rely very heavily on bird feeders during the winter when the disease occurs.
Dana Hawley is an associate professor of biological science at Virginia Tech.
Hawley: We wanted to understand where the birds are picking up this disease that’s causing population declines. And so we decided to track them using one of the only ways we can really track very small animals is to use these little chips called pit- tags. It’s a way to track the movement of animals because each have a unique ID on them. We just put them on the leband of the bird and when a bird comes to one of our feeders that has an antenna that can read that pit-tag, it registers.
So we know how often the birds in our population are feeding, what feeders they’re using and we wanted to use this technology to understand whether behavior on feeders was important for predicting the risk of a bird getting this disease.
We found that birds that spend a lot of time eating at bird feeders are most likely to be seen later with pinkeye. And we think this is because they pick up the disease into their eye when they’re actually sticking their head into the whole of the bird feeder. So we used the kind of bird feeders that have these circular ports, as many people do. And we think that the way that this disease is transmitted is that the bird essentially rubs its eye against the feeder while eating and is thus more likely to pick up the disease.
We’ll hear more on bird feeders and disease In future programs. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet