Research into Trichomonosis in British finches, part-funded by a £5,000 grant made to Dr Becki Lawson, a wildlife vet working at the Zoological Society of London, has provided crucial support in new research that suggests chaffinches migrating from British shores to Fennoscandia transported with them the parasite responsible for causing the disease.
“We first picked up cases of infection in British finches in 2005,” says Becki, who conducted her research as part of a wider Garden Bird Health initiative involving the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, the British Trust for Ornithology, the RSPB, other disease investigation centres and the garden bird food industry. “In 2006 and 2007, it had reached epidemic proportions – although we cannot say exactly what percentage of finches was affected.”
During the outbreak, the parasite seemed mainly to affect greenfinches and chaffinches, although house sparrows and other species were also infected. Historically, trichomonosis is well known as a cause of disease in pigeons and doves, where it is known as ‘canker’, and in birds of prey, where the condition is called ‘frounce’. Budgerigars can also be affected by the parasite. “One theory is that it has been spread from wild pigeons or doves to finches, perhaps through shared food and water sources,” says Becki, although she stresses that until the research is concluded it is premature to speculate.
Trichomonosis is widespread geographically throughout the UK, although it is seasonal in nature – disease outbreaks typically start after the breeding season and continue until midautumn. Birds suffering from trichomonosis often look lethargic and have fluffed-up feathers. They may also signs of struggling to feed and have trouble breathing.
(Photo courtesy of Jill Pakenham, BTO)