Aspergillosis: Protecting Your Backyard Birds from Fungal Spores

Aspergillosis, a name often associated with human lung infections, can also silently strike our feathered friends. This fungal disease, caused by microscopic spores of the Aspergillus mold, lurks in unexpected places and can be a silent, yet potentially fatal, threat to our beloved backyard birds. But fear not, bird lovers! By understanding Aspergillosis, its symptoms, causes, and preventive measures, we can become guardians of bird health and ensure their continued presence in our gardens and beyond.

A bird feeder without drainage holes may accumulate water and spoil the birdseed.

What is Aspergillosis?

Aspergillosis is a respiratory disease in birds caused by inhaling Aspergillus mold spores. These spores, found in mold formed on wet or damp bird seed, decaying vegetation, and even dust, can lodge in the lungs and air sacs of birds, leading to inflammation and a range of complications.

Symptoms of Aspergillosis:

  • Difficulty breathing: Birds may exhibit labored breathing, gasping, or open-mouth breathing.
  • Loss of appetite and weight: Infected birds often lose interest in food and can become emaciated.
  • Lethargy and weakness: Birds may appear inactive and fluffed up, lacking their usual energy.
  • Discharge from eyes and nose: In some cases, birds may develop discharge from their eyes and nostrils.
  • Coughing and wheezing: Birds may exhibit coughing or wheezing sounds due to respiratory distress.

Causes of Aspergillosis:

  • Exposure to Aspergillus spores: The primary cause is inhaling mold spores, often found in damp environments. Aspergillus spores are also found in mold formed on wet seeds, contaminated bird food, or humid areas around feeders and birdbaths.
  • Weakened immune system: Birds with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to infection.
  • Crowded conditions: Close contact with other birds in feeders or birdhouses can increase transmission risk.

Diagnosis of Aspergillosis:

Veterinarians diagnose Aspergillosis based on clinical signs, chest X-rays, and sometimes laboratory tests like fungal cultures.

Treatment for Aspergillosis:

Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for Aspergillosis in birds. However, supportive care like fluids, and oxygen therapy can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. In some cases, antifungal medications may be used, but their effectiveness is limited.

Is Aspergillosis Contagious to Other Birds?

While Aspergillosis is not directly contagious from bird to bird, exposure to the same contaminated environment can increase the risk of infection for other birds.

Is Aspergillosis Contagious to Humans?

Aspergillosis is not contagious from bird to humans, it can be contracted from inhaling spores from bird food exposed to humidity. Most people breathe in Aspergillus spores every day without getting sick. But in certain people, particularly those with compromised immune systems, Aspergillus can cause allergic reactions, chronic lung conditions and invasive diseases.

Risk Factors for Aspergillosis:

  • Bird seed left in feeders after heavy rain. Mold thrives in these conditions, increasing spore exposure risk. Although birds are quick to reject damp or spoil seeds.
  • Bird food stored in containers exposed to humidity. Spores can be present in stored bird food in damp conditions where mold thrives. 
  • Stagnant water with a heavy load of leaves. Mold can grow on the top layer of leaves floating in stagnant water.
  • Crowded feeders and birdbaths: Close contact facilitates spore transmission.
  • Wet accumulation of wet droppings: Some types of feeders may accumulate bird droppings which potentially grow mold after getting wet. 
  • Weakened immune system: Birds under stress or with illness are more susceptible to Aspergillosis..

Preventing Aspergillosis

  • Discard wet  birdseed. Bird seed in the feeder can get wet at or near the ports where it tends to clump together and promote the growth of mold. Discard these accumulations making sure the only dry and loose seed is left in the feeder. If most or all birdseed in the feeder gets wet, discard the entire content. 
  • Maintain clean feeders and birdbaths: Regularly clean and disinfect feeders and birdbaths to prevent mold growth.
  • Store your bird food in places where it is not exposed to humidity. 
  • Offer diverse food sources: Encourage birds to forage for natural food, reducing reliance on feeders.
  • Provide clean water sources: Regularly change and clean water sources to prevent stagnation and mold growth.
  • Minimize dust and moisture: Avoid placing feeders in damp, dusty areas.
  • Monitor bird behavior: Observe birds for signs of illness and remove sick birds from feeders to minimize transmission.

Do Birds Infected with Aspergillosis Survive?

Survival depends on the severity of the infection and the bird’s overall health. Early intervention and supportive care can improve chances of recovery, while severe cases can be fatal.

What Birds are Most Susceptible to Aspergillosis?

Parrots, pigeons, and some songbirds like finches and chickadees are among the species most susceptible to Aspergillosis. However, any bird species can be infected.

By understanding Aspergillosis and taking preventive measures, we can become proactive champions for our feathered companions. Remember, even small actions like clean feeders and diverse food sources can make a big difference in bird health and survival. 

Key Takeaways 

1. Aspergillosis is a fungal bird disease causing breathing difficulties, weight loss, and lethargy.

2. It spreads through inhaling mold spores, often found in damp environments, dusty areas, or contaminated food/water.

3. While not directly contagious between birds, exposure to the same sources of mold 

4. Risk factors include wet birdseed, dampness, dust, crowded feeders, and weakened immunity.

6. Prevention involves monitoring the content of bird feeders after heavy rains, storing birdseed in dry places, cleaning feeders/birdbaths, diverse food sources, clean water, and monitoring bird behavior.

7. Survival depends on severity and early intervention, but can be fatal in some cases.

8. Pigeons, and some songbirds are most susceptible, but any bird can be infected.

9. By taking action, we can protect bird health and ensure their continued presence in our environment.