House Finch Eye Disease

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House Finch Eye Disease – Tamami Gomizawa

This year I decided to participate in Project FeederWatch. This citizen science program is the perfect outlet for someone who enjoys watching the birds at her backyard feeders, but doesn’t want to bore all her friends and family with a list of birds she has attracted. Project FeederWatch actually wants your data! With their partner the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they use your data to track birds in Canada and all U.S. states except Hawaii.

Being that the House Finch is a frequent visitor to my feeders in the winter months, it is often included as a bird seen on my weekly FeederWatch sightings list. Each time that I enter the House Finch I am prompted to report if these birds had signs of eye disease. The FeederWatch program has turned out to be a useful tool for scientists to track avian diseases as well as winter movements. 

House Finches were initially found only in western North America. In the 1940’s pet stores across the U.S. started illegally selling House Finches as pets calling them “Hollywood Finches.” Someone in Brooklyn, NY spotted one of the birds in a pet store and reported it to the Audubon Society. To avoid prosecution pet stores stopped selling the House Finches and released them into the wild. The birds that were released continued to breed successfully and spread throughout eastern North America. 

In 1994, participants of Project FeederWatch in the Washington, DC area spotted and reported seeing House Finches with swollen, crusty eyes acting strangely at their feeders. Lab tests were done through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on some infected birds and found these birds were infected with a parasitic bacterium called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. This disease had previously been found in poultry as a respiratory disease. Possibly the first House Finch to contract the disease was sharing feed with some of the infected poultry. 

House Finch Disease Map
Map of Disease Progression in House Finches – Project FeederWatch

With the help of the participants from Project FeederWatch, scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have tracked the progression of the House Finch eye disease across the United States since it was first spotted in 1994. Through 1997 the infected birds seemed to be concentrated on the eastern part of the country and through the midwest and into Canada. In 2002 FeederWatch participants began spotting the infected birds in the northwestern states and the disease began progressing down the west coast and finally in 2013 began looping back east into the southwestern states. 

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House Finch with Eye Disease – Errol Taslkin

The House Finches afflicted with mycophlamal conjunctivitis have red, swollen, and crusty eyes. In extreme cases the eyes are so swollen the birds are essentially blind making it difficult for them to find food and are susceptible to predators. In many cases, infected House Finches do not die from the disease itself, but from starvation or predation. However, there are some birds who are able to survive mycophlamal conjunctivitis and these are the birds who have continued to spread the disease across the country. 

Over the years the House Finch developed some immunity to the bacteria and to keep up the bacteria evolved to become even more virulent. So, the prevalence of the disease has remained stable. Goldfinches, Purple Finches, and Evening Grosbeaks, have also been sighted with the disease, but it is not as prevalent in these species. 

If you spot infected birds at your feeders, All About Birds has some tips to follow to keep your yard and feeders disease free.

  • Clean your feeders at least every month with a diluted bleach solution. Rinse well and allow feeders to dry completely.
  • Consider purchasing tube feeders that can be completely disassembled and washed in a diluted bleach solution in the sink or in the dishwasher.
  • Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old moldy seed.
  • Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding among birds.
  • If you see diseased birds, take your feeders down and clean them. Wait a few days before putting feeders back up to encourage sick birds to disperse. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for help with sick birds.
  • Read more about House Finch eye disease from Project FeederWatch and All About Birds.
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House Finch Eye Disease – photos courtesy of Project FeederWatch

Birding Podcasts

Podcasts are great entertainment while you are driving, exercising, or doing chores inside or outside your home.  They are easily downloaded to your smartphone or tablet and cover every topic from current events to children’s stories. I, personally, have about twelve podcasts that I subscribe to, and of course several involve nature and birding. Listed below are my favorites.  As an amateur birdwatcher, I enjoy interesting and fun facts and amusing anecdotes. If you are looking for something more in depth or are an ornithologist🦉, you probably want to look for different podcasts. 

Out There With The Birds is a podcast with three contributors from Birdwatchers Digest. This is a light-hearted podcast where bird enthusiasts discuss the latest news and trends related to bird watching and, interestingly, throw in music recommendations. Bill Thomas,III, Ben Lizdas, and  Alvaro Jaramillo personally travel the U.S.A. and outside the country in search of birds to add to their extensive bird lists, but this is a podcast that the average backyard birder can enjoy.  Perhaps listening will even inspire you to go outside of your comfort zone. 

Bird Notes is a very short podcast from WRHO Public Radio that always begins with a bird song. Podcaster, Dwight Davis, has a melodic public radio type voice. In three to five minutes he will touch on a single aspect involving wild birds and leave you feeling like you have just finished story time. Anyone with with even the slightest interest in birds should give this podcast a try.

BirdNote  The similar name to the prior podcast makes this slightly confusing, but you can’t go wrong with either podcast.  This is a daily one to two minute podcast that also airs on public radio. If you subscribe to the podcast, BirdNote will greet you each morning when you wake up with a new episode. These short stories are written by birders and told by various storytellers who bring the stories to life along with the rich sounds of recorded bird songs from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the acclaimed theme music. This is a wonderful way to start your day.

Talkin’ Birds, featuring Ray Brown, is actually an interactive weekly radio show that started broadcasting from WATD, a local radio station in Massachusetts 716 episodes ago and is now carried by many other stations. The radio broadcast is later offered as a podcast. This folksy show has features like “Birds in the News”, “Bird Word of the Week” or, my personal favorite, the “Mystery Bird Contest.” Segments are separated by quirky short musical interludes that add to the fun. The show also spotlights the “Conservation Salute of the Week” and is often promoting environmental protection initiatives. 

Nature Guys is a weekly podcast not strictly about wild birds. As the title suggests, these two “Guys” talk about nature in general, but many of the episodes are about birds. Bill, retired after 40 years as Chief Naturalist from the Cincinnati Nature Center, and Bob, who volunteered at the same center, pair up weekly broadcasting from one of their homes (complete with backyard nature sounds in the background) to discuss a bird, a bug, a plant, an animal, or even a snowflake.  Bill obviously researches the topics to challenge Bob’s knowledge  with new facts that he’s found, but Bob rarely can be stumped.  The charm is that the broadcast sounds like off-the-cuff banter between friends. Truth be told, my birding companions often have to endure me rehashing one of Nature Guys’ recent episodes.

These podcasts have been airing for quite a while, but all the past episodes are available to listen to or download.

The links in this blog are for the podcasts’ web pages where you can download and listen to any of the most recent or past shows, but you can also go directly to your podcast app, Apple iTunes or Google Play, to subscribe. 

-submitted by Joleen Ardaiolo

Birds of a Feather Plus Friends Flock Together

Question:  The American Robins recently have arrived in flocks to my yard.  At the same time, Cedar Waxwings also came in mass.  All summer, I saw only occasional Blue Jays but their color is now interspersed with the Robins and Waxwings.  Why are these birds normally seen individually or not at all and suddenly they are here at the same time?  Submitted by Judy Morr

American Robin – Ed Konrad

It is not uncommon to see different species of birds flocking together in the fall and winter. At this time winter birds work together to find food that is sparse compared to the abundance available during the warmer months. The more eyes, the better for locating food sources. Recently, during one of the Early Morning Bird Walks at Caw Caw we noticed Cedar Waxwings and American Robins together in trees feeding on berries.

Cedar Waxwing – Ed Konrad

These two species are apparently common traveling partners in the fall and winter. Dozens of birds would fly up in mass to the next tree that looked promising for a better feed. There is no competing when there is a bounty of berries. It is interesting that Cedar Waxwings are social birds year round whereas American Robins know the benefits of grouping together during the cooler months, but become territorial in the spring during nesting season. For more information check out Robins and Waxwings in Winter and Summer Comparing Behaviors.  Agricultural fields, which are abundant around John’s Island, are another area that you might see mixed flocks feeding on grain and seeds remaining after the harvest. 

A single bird in a flock is also safer because there are many other birds to look out for predators, such as hawks or owls, as he eats or rests. A hawk cannot easily pick off a single bird crowded with others as they perch on power lines or in trees. I’m sure most people have noticed a hawk being chased away by a swarm of smaller birds. Interestingly you may also see a couple of Blue Jays together with Robins on a lawn during winter months. Blue Jays may raid a Robin’s nest for eggs or hatchlings during nesting season, but are more interested in acorns, seeds, and insects in fall and winter and are excellent alarms for incoming predators. 

Frigid nights will also bring birds together. A tight knit flock roosting in trees at night offers a greater defense from the cold winter weather. BirdNote, a wonderful short daily podcast, recently released 61 Tons of Robins! about how many American Robins were counted in Florida roosting together at night. 

So, it appears that birds engage in activities that are beneficial to their survival. Large numbers of birds and even different species will flock together in fall and winter when they are more vulnerable to the elements in order to locate food, keep warm, and stave off predators.  

Submitted by: Joleen Ardaiolo

Photos by: Ed Konrad

Birding App Recommendations


One of the best resources for bird watching has always been the many guides available in book  form. The Sibley Guide to Birds, Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America, and Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, as well as many others are referred to as field guides because you can carry them with you to identify birds in the field. These guides have pictures, information on habitat, and identifying clues regarding size, color, and sounds. So much valuable information and I read these guides like novels.

These days most people are never without their smart phones. Besides being used to communicate, these devices are mini computers that can also navigate and educate. There are apps available to download to your device for anything you can imagine and birdwatching is no exception. These birding apps have all the information of a field guide, plus some unique features like playing a bird’s call or recording the call to identify. There are apps that can identify a bird by a photo that you have taken with your smartphone or your camera and some apps will even use your birding information to add to their database for their research. 

Finding the apps that work for you may take some trial and error. Many of the people with whom I go birding use eBird by the Cornell Lab to keep their life list of bird species. This is an app from Cornell University that will use your data for research. It is amazing to go to their website to see how your information is used to show migration patterns of these birds. However, for identifying birds I use Audubon Bird Guide by the Audubon Bird Society. I can quickly search for a bird by even a partial name or bird type. This app will show me photos, a map of locations during the year, written description, and audios of the bird’s calls. This app will also search birds by descriptors, even though I do not use that feature on this app. If I want to identify a bird by descriptors I go to my Merlin app, also from The Cornell Lab. This app uses my location, date, size of bird, colors, and activity to make you a list of possibilities. This app can also use a downloaded photo to generate a list of possibilities. I have never had much success with photos that I have taken with my iPhone, but if use a decent camera, it works very well. 

All the apps mentioned above are free to download, but there are really excellent apps that are available for a one time fee that have even more features. With Bird Song Id USA Automatic Recognition & Reference for $4.99 you can apparently record a bird’s song to identify. Sibley’s Birds 2nd Edition at $19.99 is an app that I have been eyeing for a year. I have the paper field guide and love all the information it provides so I can only imagine that the app would be just as good. In fact, the new edition provides a not only the “compare” feature, but also a “similar to” feature to assist in identifying your subject!

My only complaint with using a smart phone as a field guide is that there is generally no WiFi in most areas that you will be birding and the glare on the screen sometimes makes it hard to see the photos. The information available through these apps is still incredible even if you only use them at home. 

Additionally, there are apps for bird lovers that are just fun. Dawn Chorus by Audubon is an app that lets you make a wake up alarm using a bird call chorus that you select.  Daily Bird is a day by day calendar that highlights a new bird each day with a short descriptor. 

Search “birding” in your tablet or smartphone app store and see if you might benefit from some of these apps. And let us know if you have a favorite birding app that others might enjoy!

Submitted by:  Joleen Ardaiolo

Love Birds in our Midst

It is only natural to conjure up romantic ideas about your bird families. If you have had the good fortune to watch a nest being built and hatchlings being tended by diligent bird parents you want to imagine that your avian family will live and love happily ever after. Where there is no indication that many offspring stay with their parents for long, there are several bird species couples that mate for life. 

Sadly for us romantics, there is no emotional attachment between bird pairs. Their bonds are driven by successfully producing offspring and even the ability to care for and protect their brood. And, if the bird couple does not successfully produce eggs, they will look for other mates. This keeps their species strong. 

Advantages of a long term relationship is that the couple may produce more than one brood in a season or even replace a brood that was attacked by predators or lost in a natural disaster. The attentive partner comes in handy for building the nest and feedings during the incubation period for the mate and the baby birds in the nest. This is most important for the larger birds and birds of prey where the nesting time is longer and there is the need for a large area to acquire food and keep the hatchings protected. A great birding basics article to check out about birds that mate for life is from The Spruce, Do Birds Mate For Life?. 

Northern Cardinal – Dean Morr

There are a number of species that we see often on Seabrook Island that will be celebrating Valentines Day as a couple. Probably the most familiar bird couple to anyone living east of the Mississippi is the Northern Cardinal. Even though you see large flocks in the winter it is common to see a mated pair together at your feeder where occasionally the male will feed the female a seed in a gesture that looks like a kiss. You may have also experienced a Northern Cardinal attacking his reflection on your car mirror or house window. This is that male protecting his female and their territory. 

Blue Jay – Ed Konrad

The male Blue Jay is another common bird in our area that, after being chosen by the female from a pool of a half dozen or more contenders, is loyal for life. The male is integral in the nesting season and the aggressive behavior that some many complain about is merely a loud bird protecting his family. 

Black Vultures


The Black Vultures that can be seen on top of the shops at Freshfields not only catch up with their mate for nesting season, but enjoy hanging out together all year round. When the male Black Vulture spots a prospective female, he chases her in flight and periodically dives at her. Annoying to some, but apparently this works for enticing the female Black Vulture. 

Bald Eagle on nest – C Moore

Our most beloved Bald Eagle is a raptor that finds a life mate. This pair also returns to the same territory and nest each year. If they successfully produce young at a nest they will go back year after year adding to that same nest. Some nests can end up weighing one or two tons.  Many on Seabrook Island can attest to that having seen the huge Bald Eagles nest on Bohicket Creek.

These are but a few examples of the species that will be celebrating Valentine’s Day together. According to an article in Bird Watchers Digest  Do Birds Mate for Life? and statistics from The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior 90% of all bird species are socially monogamous. There may be a little more about cheating in the Sibley’s statement, but we won’t go there since it’s Valentine’s Day.  ❤️

Submitted by:  Joleen Ardaiolo
Photo Credits: As noted

Learning About Our Shorebirds On North Beach

5SIB North Beach bird walk
SIB North Beach bird walk – Ed Konrad


WHEN: Friday February 1, 2019 8:00 – 11:00 am (High tide is 5:56 am)
WHERE: North Beach – Park and meet our group at the Oystercatcher Community Center at Boardwalk 1
COST: Free for SIB members or $5 donation for guests

Our local shorebird expert, Aija Konrad, will lead us on this Learning Together experience. The walk will be 2+ miles on the beach to Capn Sam’s inlet. You may turn around at any time you wish based upon your personal abilities and time constraints.

We should see Sanderlings, Dunlins, Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers, and hopefully several types of plovers. Luckily, Ruddy Turnstones and Red Knots have begun to arrive on their journey north, so we might find them at North Beach as well

Bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, water and binoculars.

If you are not yet a 2019 SIB member, you must first become a member by following the instructions on our website: JOIN SIB.

All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Thursday January 31st.

Are You Concerned About the Health or Safety of a Wild Bird of Prey or Shorebird?

Elaine & Ron Ross, of Bateau Trace on Seabrook Island, were concerned and sent SIB an email on Friday January 17th.

Hi, we have a pelican in our backyard on Seabrook Island that has been here all morning and now afternoon. It is on its stomach. When I approached it to take a picture it quickly got up on its feet and flapped its wings, then as soon as I came inside it went back down on its stomach again. Please let us know what to do. Thank you.

Our SIB Communication team responded to the Ross’s to provide the phone number of The Center for Birds of Prey (843-971-7474). As a follow-up, it was a good news story.  Here is “the rest of the story…”.

Be sure to see the full instructions on how to report a bird you are concerned for at the end of this story.

We got in touch with Mark, from The Center for Birds of Prey. He asked that we send pictures of the bird to help determine if it was in good enough health to be rescued and rehabilitated.

I was able to come from behind the bird so as not to startle it, but it saw me and got up on its feet. That actually helped us understand that it appeared to have nothing physically wrong.

As soon as I went back in the house it laid back down on its belly.

From the pictures, Mark decided it was rescuable, so we made arrangements to have someone come out to pick it up.

We noted that every time it got up it had a lot of diarrhea. So, we guessed that it had eaten something bad and was having a bad tummy day and just needed to rest.

Just after making pick up arrangements, we watched as it got back on its feet, spent a few minutes preening and stretching its wings, then made its way to the tidal creek that runs across the back of our yard. It spent time rooting around for food with its feet and slowly made its way along the waterway until we could no longer see it.

We decided it was recovering well enough and called Mark to cancel the rescue.

This whole event ran over a period of about 6 hours. We were glad it had a happy ending.

And clearly we learned it was not a Pelican as we initially stated, but rather a Wood Stork!



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Enter a Center for Birds of Prey http://www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.orgcaption

Are you concerned about the health or safety of a wild bird of prey or shorebird on Seabrook Island (or anywhere in the Lowcountry)?


Call the Avian Medical Clinic at 843.971.7474 and press option #1 for the Injured Bird Line. You can also send an email to

We are available to assist with injured birds from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day of the week. If you need assistance after 5:00 p.m., please leave a message and we will contact you first thing the following morning. Always leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Do not handle the bird unless you are confident you can do so without injuring yourself or injuring the bird further. Injured raptors require specialized treatment and care from a Federally-licensed, experienced practitioner.

It is illegal to possess any migratory bird without state and federal permits. However, your temporary assistance is allowed in helping an injured bird reach proper care and doing so ensures its best chance for recovery and return to its natural environment.

If the bird is contained, do not offer food or water to the bird. The bird may not be strong enough to process solid food, even if it appears hungry; feeding could harm or even be fatal to the bird. Having food in its system may also preclude certain medical procedures that the bird may need.

Bird Checklist

The Seabrook Island Birders are happy to announce that their newly updated bird checklist is available on their website at Seabrook Island Bird Checklist .  You can now print the updated version for your next birdwatching outing or to keep at your island home where you observe your feeders. No printer? No problem! The new brochures with the checklist have been ordered and should be available at The Seabrook Island Birders next meeting on January 30, 2019 at 7:00pm at the Lake House. If you can’t make the meeting, they will continue be available at the Lake House and other locations around Seabrook Island. 

FYI! On that same page of Seabrook Island Birders website, you can also find checklists for Kiawah Island and the Ace Basin.

Happy birding!

Join us and Learn Together at the Seabrook Island Maintenance Center

Register now to join us at one of our favorite places on Seabrook Island for bird watching. The maintenance area and water treatment ponds attract songbirds, ducks, wading birds, and birds of prey.  This is a short and easy walk and perfect for those who want to try birding for the first time.

Bring your binoculars and wear walking shoes that are suitable for walking in areas that may be damp or muddy. You may also want to bring your hat, water, bug spray, and sunscreen.

WHEN: Thursday, January 24, 2019, 9:00am-11:00am 

WHERE: Seabrook Island Maintenance Center

COST: Free for Seabrook Island Birders members or $5 donation for nonmembers 

Please park and meet our group in the SI Community Garden parking lot.

If you are not yet a 2019 SIB member, you can become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our Seabrook Island Birders website. If you were a 2018 member but have yet to renew for 2019, you may renew following the instructions above or renew the day of the walk.  

Seabrook Island Maintenance Pond




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