Avian Pox: A Guide for Backyard Birders

Worried about those strange growths on your backyard birds? Avian Pox, a viral disease causing wart-like lesions or mouth sores, might be the culprit. This contagious illness poses a significant threat to our feathered neighbors. This guide delves into symptoms, causes, prevention tips, and what you can do to help birds overcome Avian Pox and thrive.

Wart-like lesions typical of avian pox. Photo: Carolina Waterfowl Rescue.

What is Avian Pox?

Avian pox is a viral disease affecting birds, caused by a group of viruses called avi poxviruses. These viruses can cause two main forms of the disease:

  • Dry or cutaneous pox: Characterized by wart-like lesions on the skin, feathers, beak, and legs.
  • Wet or diphtheritic pox: Characterized by yellow, cheesy lesions in the mouth, throat, and eyes, often accompanied by difficulty breathing.

Learn More about other Diseases that May Affect Backyard Birds.

Symptoms of Avian Pox:

  • Dry pox: Wart-like lesions, often red or gray, on beak, legs, eyelids, and around the vent. Lesions may crust and bleed.
  • Wet pox: Difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, drooling, and discharge from eyes and mouth.
  • General symptoms: Loss of appetite, lethargy, drooping wings, ruffled feathers, and weight loss.

Causes of Avian Pox:

Avian pox is caused by contact with infected birds, their droppings, or contaminated surfaces like feeders and birdbaths. Mosquitoes can also transmit the virus in some cases.

Avian Pox Diagnosis:

Veterinarians diagnose avian pox based on clinical signs, physical examination, and sometimes laboratory tests like DNA sequencing.

Treatment for Avian Pox:

There is no specific treatment for avian pox. Supportive care, such as providing fluids, pain medication, and soft food, can help birds recover. In some cases, antibiotics may be used to prevent secondary infections.

Contagious to Other Birds?

Yes, avian pox is highly contagious to other birds. Contact with infected birds, their droppings, or contaminated surfaces can all spread the virus.

Contagious to Humans?

No, avian pox is not contagious to humans. The avipoxviruses that infect birds are different from those that infect humans.

Risk Factors for Avian Pox

  • Crowded feeders and birdbaths: Increased contact with other birds raises the risk of transmission.
  • Stress: Stressed birds may be more susceptible to infection.
  • Species susceptibility: Some bird species, like turkeys and young birds, are more susceptible than others.

Preventing Avian Pox:

  • Maintain clean feeders and birdbaths: Regularly disinfect feeders and birdbaths to prevent the virus from spreading.
  • Offer diverse food sources: This encourages birds to spread out and reduces competition at feeders.
  • Create a natural habitat: Planting native vegetation attracts insects and natural food sources, reducing reliance on feeders.
  • Monitor bird behavior: Observe birds for signs of illness and remove sick birds from feeders to prevent transmission.
  • Report outbreaks: If you suspect an outbreak, contact your local wildlife agency or bird rehabilitation center.

Survival of Infected Birds

Some birds with avian pox recover on their own, especially with supportive care. However, the disease can be fatal, particularly for young birds or those with weakened immune systems.

Birds Most Susceptible to Avian Pox

Turkeys, young birds, and some songbirds like chickadees and finches are more susceptible to avian pox than other species.

By understanding avian pox and taking steps to prevent its spread, we can help protect our feathered friends and ensure their continued presence for generations to come. Remember, even small actions can make a big difference!

Learn more about the other two viral bird diseases: Avian Influenza and West Nile Virus.

Key Takeaways 

1. Avian pox is a viral disease in birds causing wart-like lesions (dry pox) or mouth/throat lesions (wet pox).

2. It spreads through contact with infected birds, their droppings, or contaminated surfaces like feeders.

3. While contagious to other birds, avian pox is not contagious to humans.

4. Crowding, stress, and species susceptibility increase the risk of infection.

5. Prevention involves clean feeders, diverse food sources, and a natural habitat.

6. Recovery is possible, but young birds and those with weak immunity are more vulnerable.

7. Turkeys, young birds, and chickadees/finches are most susceptible.

8. By understanding and preventing avian pox, we can protect our backyard bird populations.


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