Aspergillus is one of the few fungus that has evolved to be a parasite on birds; when it infects, it is usually found in the respiratory system. This plant’s spores are extensively dispersed in nature, and birds inhale them with dust or pick them up from moldy food or unclean water.
The fungus establishes colonies in the host bird’s lungs and breathing passageways, and certain birds are more vulnerable to the bacteria-like poison it produces. Several related species have been identified, and several infections with different moulds (fungi) have been seen in connection with Aspergillus.
Some fungi are very beneficial to birds; they are hyperparasites of many anthropoid and helminth species, which means they are fungi that kill worms; enormous numbers of these “good” fungi assault round worms at all phases of life. Some extremely interesting Fungi, such as the genera Dactylaria, capture parasitic Nematodes alive during their free living stage by snaring them with loop-shaped portions of the Mycelium, each of which operates on contact with the prey, causing the loops to swell suddenly and constrict around the worm, which is held fast and consumed.
Aspergillus outbreaks are most common in areas where birds are overcrowded and housed in unsanitary circumstances, such as aviaries with limited air, stale rotting food, and polluted water. When the environment dries up, the filaments (of the Fungi) develop spores that are readily dispersed by air currents. The bird can tolerate a small quantity of spores, but a big number may induce sickness.
I feel that we lose young birds to this sickness while hand feeding them, and that a large part of the blame may be assigned to the medium we put at the bottom of the container we keep the baby birds in, the brooder.
While we combine any item that will produce mould when moist with the heat of the brooder, we get fungus, and your brooder will be full with fungal spores within days. The accumulation of these fungi in the brooder’s little constricted environment may be lethal.
For example, I know of breeders who have had a high number of baby losses and used Bran as a “nesting” medium in the brooder since it was assumed that the birds may eat it (as they often do with nesting material) and so it would be appropriate to use and safe if they did swallow it. In my view, any form of meal stuff is a mistake since mould likes Bran.
I use a combination of peat and soil. I purchase a bag of Peat moss from a nursery, screen out all the little sticks, then combine the sieved Peat with typical clean garden soil dug from a nearby garden.
I do this because a book I was reading (published in 1928) discussed the finding of organisms in garden soil that killed the gram negative group, which includes organisms from the Pasterella group, haemorrhagic septecium chicken cholera, and would kill hazardous bacteria in the intestines of birds. So I’ve been using this combo (Peat and Soil) as brooder box material for years. I’ve seen several of my hand-reared young birds with crops half full of the combination with no adverse consequences that I’m aware of.
One other hint: after I’ve done rearing the young, Olive (my wife) removes the old soil and peat, pours it into a bucket, fills it with water, and wateres all her plants with it; they seem to like it. Could Aspergillus be transmitted by mice?
The source of Aspergillus in surface feeding ducks in Britain was traced back to their consuming the urine and droppings of animals that also had the illness, thus I assume mice in our aviaries might potentially spread the disease to our birds, especially with droppings and urine into the seed.
Antibiotics may potentially cause Aspergillus in your birds, so use them sparingly if possible.
This sickness is difficult to identify; the only definite method is to see a veterinarian. The major symptoms are gasping, labored breathing, or fast breathing. This might also indicate other respiratory disorders, but if you bring the bird to your ear, you may hear a small clicking sound suggesting loose bits of fungus in the respiratory system; if you hear that, it is most likely Aspergillus, not an air sac mite or anything else.
If you suspect your birds have this illness, use a vacuum cleaner to take out all the spores from the brooder, then clean and disinfect the brooder and remove any sick birds.
Please take care not to inhale too many spores, since too many may get you ill. To illustrate, in Europe, pigeon fanciers would feed the newborn pigeons with their own lips, chewing the food up and forcing it into the infant’s mouth; many of these fanciers perished, and their deaths were blamed to Aspergillus.
Many young birds die from this sickness, and the owner blames the parents; many people call or send me dead infants with full harvests; the parents are doing their job; it’s only that mature birds have a strong resilience to this disease and may flourish in conditions that would kill a baby.
There is a treatment: add one drop of saturated potassium iodine solution to each ounce of drinking water for a day or two, then gradually raise the dosage to one and a half drops, then two drops, and so on for two to three weeks. It is advisable to administer it for two weeks, then rest for a week before repeating and continuing administration for three weeks. This may be maintained for three months, although a week of relaxation is required after every three weeks. This is a therapy advised in an ancient book; I haven’t tested it, so proceed with caution.
Even if you heal your bird, the dead plant stays in the bird, and as we indicated at the beginning of this post, many beneficial fungus may have been destroyed in the process.
According to one US veterinarian who writes on Aspergillus, the prognosis in most instances is death.
So the most essential thing I can advise you is to keep your birds clean, and to be extremely cautious with sprouting seed.
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