Chaffinch - sick or baby?

Hello, I noticed a chaffinch at our feeder today. It was a lot fatter looking than the other ones but was still foraging on the ground and eating dropped seeds. I have read about trichomonosis so this was my first thought but it did not seem to have any food stuck to its beak and was managing the seeds ok. I did manage to walk up fairly close to it before it flew away. My question is whether this is a sick chaffinch or a baby? I have googled pictures of baby chaffinch and its fluffed up appearance does look very similar, but then trichomonosis also makes them fluffy. There were no seeds stuck around its beak and plummage was dry. 

I am happy to go ahead and remove my feeders to be safe but I just want to check if anyone has seen healthy baby chaffinches at their feeder and what they might look like? And act like? 

Thank you 

*edit* I have managed to get a picture which is attached. I’ve taken down my feeders as a precaution 



  • Hi ZP
    I think people might have a better idea if you could post a photo. It's difficult to diagnose a potential problem from just a description.

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    Regards,Tony

    My Flickr Photostream 

  • Hello I managed to get a few

  • Hi ZP
    Thanks for the photos. I'd agree that it is a young Chaffinch. I'm no expert but there's no obvious signs of disease apart from it looking rather fluffed up. However, lethargy can be a symptom so I'd keep an eye on it if you can.
    One of our members Hazy has seen quite a lot of bird with Trich so she may be able to give you a better opinion.

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    Regards,Tony

    My Flickr Photostream 

  • Hi ZP, as Tony says there isn't enough obvious signs to detect where this bird is very sick but it could very well be Trichomonas which is more common in finches and would present itself similarly. The bird appears to be fluffed up and if you are able to get close to it without it flying away then that is another indication this bird is very sick. Often by the time you are able to capture a sick bird it is too late to help it and Trichomonas is virtually impossible to treat in small garden birds as the medicine required is too strong for their size. A good indication of Trichomonas is that the bird will need to drink frequently; the parasite blocks the gullet and the birds find it hard to swallow, you may see it trying to work any seed down the gullet but struggling to swallow. If you are able to open the birds beak you will see yellowy cheesy looking bits in the back of the throat which is the parasite.      Birds do not die directly from the parasite itself but from the resulting starvation. 

    I would suggest if you see the chaffinch drinking frequently then it is very important to remove all water dishes and seed/feeders from the garden (I would remove them for at least three weeks) as the problem with Trichomonas is that it can spread amongst birds as the infected bird regurgitates seed or water with the parasite in it which another bird can pick up by eating the regurgitated food off the feeder or ground.

    Hopefully, your chaffinch may recover; there are so many different things it could be from catting to colliding with a window to one of the various bird diseases such as Trich or salmonella. Fingers crossed this little bird recovers in time but if you are able to pick it up then it may need taking to a local wildlife hospital or vet to save it suffering further.

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    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • Thank you that information is very helpful. The bird was slow to fly away and let me come close but did fly away when it noticed me definitely more slow than the other birds. 

     It’s very heartbreaking to see a potentially sick bird and there is nothing I can do to help. It does make me think maybe garden bird feeding is doing more harm than good overall. I do always clean my feeders when refilling seeds so a few times a week and it’s all hanging feeders which I think are more hygenic. However the chaffinches do tend to forage in the grass under them next to wood pigeons etc so I guess despite best efforts it’s hard to avoid close contact with other birds. Would feel terrible to think I have contributed to disease spread I really wish there was something more we could all do?

     I’ve taken down my feeders cleaned and put away for at least 3 weeks. If I am honest I don’t know if I can continue to feed the garden birds as it’s too heartbreaking when you consider disease spread around feeders and being unable to do anything when you do see a sick bird 

  • Morning ZP, I had the same thoughts as you did regarding feeding the birds when I saw several cases over the years of Trichomonas and like you, I had a super regular regime of cleaning feeders and rotating them and wiping down perches/feeders every morning however I came to the conclusion that the birds were far better coming to my cleaner feeders than maybe others in the local area that hadn't been washed for maybe months. The fact is the birds would more than likely have first contracted any disease from dirty feeders/tables in the area (not yours) and woodpigeons are sometimes the culprits (it is called Canker in pigeons but the same disease), We had a lot of woodpigeons and I definitely saw one with Trichomonas, we also had a visiting friendly cock pheasant that also caught Trich as these birds like pigeons and pheasants are regularly foraging off the ground when they could have picked up the regurgitated food or from drinking water with the parasite in it. Finches and pigeons are more prone to the disease because they are flock birds that often gather in groups, hence the transference of this parasite is greater as they eat closely together. Despite the breaks in feeding for a few weeks, the cases of Trichomonas would always reoccur now and again so do not feel bad as you are one of the good folk that work hard to keep your feeders and feeding area clean. I've often thought that people who want to feed birds should only do so if they are completely committed (as with any other animal like dog and cat) to washing their feeders/tables, etc., regularly otherwise they are sometimes doing more harm than good. Birds really only need to be fed during colder months although I must admit that I fed our garden birds throughout the year as rspb seems to promote. I understand how gutted you feel when you see a sick bird - I used to almost take it personally ! and felt responsible for the bird getting sick despite my best efforts to keep hygiene to a high level, In reality, there is nothing more you can do other than what you are doing now and sometimes birds do get sick, just like other animals and humans do. It is still possible this little chaffinch doesn't have Trichomonas and may recover from a temporary sickness. You have done the right thing to remove feeders/water dishes for three weeks to be on the safe side although the birds will just use other feeding stations in the local area; there is enough natural food out there at this time of year and the weather is milder so birds will do just fine. They will return to your feeders within a couple of days of reinstating them so don't worry the birds will desert you and then sit back and enjoy their visits. Finally, I will say once again, do not feel guilty, it is not your fault.

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    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • Hello, so after months of healthy chaffinches and other small birds I've had two chaffinches yesterday turn up with suspected trichomonosis :( It's so frustrating as I can't figure out where they would have got it from. I've seen no other birds in the garden with any symptoms. We have a lot of chaffinches visiting daily so I took the feeders down right away and will deep clean accordingly. It's sad to see them all queuing up today (including the sick chaffinch) for their food but I know it's the best thing for them.

    We have a wood pigeon who feeds from the ground most days and he looks healthy along with blackbirds who ground feed next to the chaffinches. I have hanging feeders with seed catcher trays underneath, the smaller birds can access the catcher trays. I clean the seed catcher trays once a day with disinfectant and boiling water. The hanging feeders get cleaned in the same way every week and sometimes more if I think it needs it.

    We have had a squirrel coming to raid the catcher trays. Could he have spread it? I started putting a small bowl of sunflower seeds out for him away from the bird feeders. The result was the squirrel was happily helping himself to the bowl, once he went the wood pigeon had a go and then some of the smaller birds too despite having hanging feeders. I'm wondering if this has somehow done it? Again I haven't seen any birds with symptoms and I am keeping a keen eye out for this daily! It has also been quite rainy here the last few weeks and mild I wonder if this has an effect.

    I live in a small semi-rural village so I don't think a lot of my neighbours feed the birds. I suppose there could be one or two.

    It would also be good to know if the finches will develop a tolerance for this parasite over time or if they can ever recover from it as it's so sad to see!

    Anyway it'll be a quiet few weeks with the feeders down you really do become fond of the birds!
  • Hi ZP, sorry to hear about the sick chaffinches, finches are particular prone to Trichomonosis as they tend to be flock birds foraging often in a group and the parasite is easy to pick up as one bird regurgitates food containing the parasite. I would say it would be more likely the Woodpigeon would be responsible rather than the squirrel as they tend to forage on the ground much of the time and are prone to this disease which is often referred to as "canker" in pigeons. You would see the same signs of disease with food stuck to the beak and a puffed up appearance if the woodpigeon is sick although this could have come from another bird. We saw it so many times over the 9 years in our last garden and despite keeping the feeding area clean this disease will often rear its ugly head as you have no control over other feeding stations around your area or other sick birds bringing in the disease to your garden, all you can do is as you have done and withdraw feeders and especially water dishes for around a month to give birds time to disperse and seek food elsewhere. They will always return after a few days once you are able to put the feeders back up. Once again, really sorry to hear about the chaffies, it is a sad sight but always remember that most birds are healthy and birds have large broods to ensure their species numbers are maintained despite disease or predation, etc. Hopefully in the new year you will have the birds back in your garden enjoying the seeds you provide over these colder months. Good luck.

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    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again"