The Bird Word: Comparing Notes, Taking Count and Keeping an Eye Out for Disease

By Kimberly Mason

A common but colorful male house finch is a welcome winter guest at local feeders. Finches are be susceptible to avian conjunctivitis, a disease that primarily begins as a respiratory infection. (Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle)

For The Chronicle

You just never know when you might see your name in the local newspaper or find yourself quoted in the text of the town tattler — especially if you happen to know someone that writes for the local daily.

Just ask “my hunting friend in Morton” or “my birding friend in Rochester” or even “my fishing friend in Mossyrock.”

Today I have a new “friend in Cinebar,” Darlene Sybert. Sybert was quoted in the December Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife “Weekender’s Report” earlier this week, and that was news to her. She had no idea she was being used as a source for birding news by the WDFW until I told her when I tracked her down.

“I’m just an amateur,” she said.

“Me too,” I said, “But isn’t it fun to compare notes?”

The report read: “One birder from Cinebar recently noted on the Tweeters website that black-headed grosbeaks, mourning doves and purple finches had disappeared from her backyard feeder in recent weeks. But pine siskins, juncos, jays and a swarm of evening grosbeaks have taken their place.”

I, too, live in the Cinebar area, but I don’t have mourning doves or grosbeaks of any kind at my feeders.

There are distinct differences in our landscapes — she has a wooded site and mine is more of an open field with scattered trees. So, despite the fact that there are only a few miles between us (as the crow flies), we each host a different assortment of diners.

The Christmas Bird Count and Citizen Science

In the winter season, amateur birders have an opportunity to participate in a wide variety of bird watching and citizen-science projects.

Some projects, such as the Great Backyard Bird Count ( take as little as 15 minutes a year. Others, like Project Feeder Watch ( allow you to contribute observations as often as every week in the winter.

The 111th annual National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count begins next week on Dec. 14, and will run through Jan. 5.

This annual event enlists birdwatchers — veterans and novices alike — to contribute their counted sightings over a 24-hour period to the world’s longest-running bird database.

It is citizen science in action.

But here’s the bad news: there are area coordinators for the CBC in the Cowlitz, Elma and Olympia areas, but there isn’t anyone listed for the Lewis County area.

Visit the Audubon website at or the Washington Ornithology Society’s website at to learn more about the program and get involved.

Keep an Eye Out for Finches

Sunday afternoon I spotted a house finch at one of my feeders that seems to be suffering from a type of avian conjunctivitis known as House Finch Disease. The poor little fellow was dining alone.

I immediately conducted a Google search — which, as we all know, can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of an amateur wanna-be medical unprofessional — and according to the Cornell

Lab of Ornithology website, “Birds in this condition (mycoplasmal conjunctivitis) have trouble feeding. You might see them staying on the ground, under the feeder, trying to find seeds. If the infected bird dies, it is usually not from the conjunctivitis itself, but rather from starvation, exposure, or predation as a result of not being able to see.”

What do they recommend we do? If you see one or two diseased birds, take your feeders down immediately and clean them.

And that’s always good advice, whether you see a sick bird or not.

Wash feeders with mild soap and water, and then give the feeder a soak for 10 minutes in a 10-percent bleach solution (one part bleach and nine parts water). Allow the feeders to completely air dry before putting them back up.

Rake or sweep the area underneath your feeders to remove droppings and old, moldy seed. Moldy seed makes birds sick. Make sure you store your bird seed in airtight, moisture-free containers.

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer who enjoys watching and photographing the wildlife in action in her own backyard in Cinebar.  Contact her via e-mail at