Dark truth behind photo of common Aussie bird in backyard: 'Extremely resistant'

A leading expert has warned against a common practice millions of Aussies do which could be aiding the spread of the deadly disease.

Butcherbird with avian pox on its face.
A sad photo of a butcherbird in an Aussie backyard has revealed the toll a fatal disease can have on the native animals. Source: Facebook

A confronting photo of a wild Aussie bird with red swollen lumps near its eye reveals the true face of a highly infectious deadly disease putting native birdlife at risk. It comes as an expert reveals the common practice that could be aiding in the spread of the fatal illness.

Queensland resident Alison Rook shared the sad photo of a bird she found in her garden asking for advice on how she could help the creature, saying its vision appeared to be suffering. She said the wild butcherbird was a regular visitor to her backyard and suspected it had avian pox.

"Have been giving him mealworms. Any other suggestions of how I could help him?” she asked online.

Melbourne wildlife ecologist Gráinne Cleary confirmed to Yahoo News Australia the grey butcherbird has avian poxvirus infection, a highly contagious and fatal disease which can cause reproductive problems for female birds.

She said unfortunately bird-loving Aussies who fed flocks of wild birds could be unwittingly aiding the spread of the disease by allowing and encouraging close contact, she said.

“The poxvirus can be spread directly by contact between infected and other birds or by contact with contaminated areas such as bird feeders,” Cleary told Yahoo News.

“It is extremely resistant, being able to survive on perches and in dried scabs for months to years. The virus is unable to penetrate intact skin and needs to gain entry through wounds.”

Typical Australian backyard.
It's best to avoid feeding birds in your backyard unless you know what you're doing. Source: Getty

Cleary said avian poxvirus is transmitted through biting invertebrates such as mosquitoes, midges or flies. While the virus does not affect humans, she said it had been present in bird populations for centuries, leading to infection and disease.

“After feeding on an infected bird, the insect carries the virus on its mouthparts and passes it to another bird,” Cleary said.

“The poxvirus infection causes dry scabs on featherless areas such as feet, eyelids and mouths. This can clear up by itself, but the infection is highly contagious through insects or contact of broken skin with scabs.”

Cleary said birds such as the one found by Alison Rook need urgent medical attention and advised anyone who found a feathered friend infected with avian pox to contact their local wildlife carer and leave catching it to the experts.

“She should also clean the area the bird was on to stop potential spread,” Cleary said. “Hot water and disinfectant and give the area a good scrub.”

Cleary said if people were going to feed wild birds, they should ensure they follow official guidelines regarding the correct feeding method as it could cause bird populations more damage.

According to Birdlife Australia, between 30 and 50 per cent of Australians feed native backyard birds. While Rook was feeding her butcherbird friend correctly, millions of Aussies offer the wrong food which can cause “serious harm” including malnutrition, disease and unbalanced populations.

A rosella feeding (left) and a cockatoo on grass (right).
Native birds can be put at risk if they are fed the wrong things. Source: Getty

The national welfare organisation said the practice was deemed “controversial” in most of Australia, while feeding native fauna including birds is illegal in Western Australia without a licence.

Birdlife Australia warned Aussies to never feed birds human snacks such as crackers or bread which contained zero nutritional value and quickly filled their stomachs with empty calories and none of the energy or nutrients they need.

Mince and raw meat should also never be offered as it could cause calcium deficiencies in young birds, leading to brittle bones and beaks, long-term metabolic bone disease or bacterial infection, while honey and sugar is also a no-no.

If nature lovers had to offer food, Birdlife Australia said bird nectar mix suited for lorikeets and honeyeaters, and fresh fruit and vegetables could be given to parrots, pigeons, doves and bowerbirds.

Earthworms, mealworms and insects were fodder for fantails, fairy-wrens, flycatchers, whistlers, magpies and butcherbirds, while seeds, nuts and grains were suitable for parrots, pigeons, doves and finches.

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