Why Do American Goldfinches Get Avian Conjunctivitis?

Updated on April 20, 2020
StephanieBCrosby profile image

Stephanie Bradberry is an educator herbalist, naturopath, and energy healer. She loves all things natural and the beauty of nature.

As an avid, but amateur, bird-watcher, there is always a thrill when the opportunity to add a great picture to our album arises. This is especially true since I work hard feeding the birds and doing whatever I can to attract them so my husband can take the picture. However, not every picture can make the cut. This was the case with a seemingly perfect picture of a male and female American Goldfinch.

An American Goldfinch infected with conjunctivitis.
An American Goldfinch infected with conjunctivitis.

An Almost Perfect Picture

“Hey, honey, look at this,” said my husband. It was one of the bird photos from our backyard that showed a male and female American Goldfinch feeding off our thistle sack. This was the perfect opportunity to include a picture of our state bird in our album. But it looked like the bright yellow male was missing an eye!

The excitement over a new picture to upload to our website waned. The paler female looked fine, but her mate was not so picture-perfect. What was wrong with this American Goldfinch? We posted our pictures to an online discussion board: WhatBird.com. Our first response came back concerning the goldfinch: “Your bird has conjunctivitis. The poor thing will probably die soon.”

What Is Avian Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis, known as avian conjunctivitis and Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis for birds, is a disease caused by a parasitic bacterium. Our male goldfinch had the typical symptoms of red, swollen, watery or crusty eyes. As the disease progresses, the eye(s) can swell shut or crust over, leaving the bird blind. Infected birds have trouble feeding because they cannot see.

But, the symptoms seemed odd, considering conjunctivitis is a respiratory infection. Clearly, the bird was breathing. And, the disease is commonly found in House Finches, not American Goldfinches. I had to look up more information about the disease.

The History of the Disease

The spread of avian conjunctivitis was first noticed in 1994 when House Finches—with the symptoms listed above—were seen at feeders in the Washington, D.C. area. Until the 1940s, House Finches were only found in western North America and Mexico. In 1941, the birds were sold illegally in a New York pet store as “Hollywood Finches.” Knowing that the authorities were coming to inspect his shop, the Brooklyn shop owner set the birds free.

The birds bred successfully in the wild. But, with so few birds to populate the species in the east, the birds became highly inbred. And inbred species tend to become susceptible to more health and physical problems.

Male American Goldfinch
Male American Goldfinch | Source

Why Was an American Goldfinch Infected?

So why was a male American Goldfinch in a central New Jersey backyard infected? American Goldfinches are part of the same family as House Finches, Fringillidae. Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Grosbeaks have been known to contract conjunctivitis. This is no surprise since they are also in the same family, but it is extremely rare. But studies do show an increase in the amount of infected songbirds.

Because we get many species of birds in our backyard, I did not want the other birds to become infected. All I could think about was the faithful female goldfinch in our picture becoming as sick as her mate. I needed to know what to do.

Female American Goldfinch
Female American Goldfinch | Source

Ways to Help

  • The best defense against infection is to disinfect. Cleaning feeders with one (1) part bleach to nine (9) parts water will sanitize the feeders. Let them dry before re-hanging in the yard.
  • Another way to prevent the spread of infection is to rake under feeders to remove potentially contaminated seeds, shells, and bird droppings. Handling feeders after an infected bird has fed on it is not a problem, as this strain of the disease does not affect humans. Sometimes people are confused because humans do get a form of conjunctivitis, pink eye. However, avian conjunctivitis cannot be transmitted to humans.
  • You can also be part of the bird-watching survey for Cornell University and report infected birds.

Great Sources

1. Link to House Finch Disease Survey run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:


2. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “House Finch.” All About Birds. Cornell University, 2011.


Cite This Article:


Crosby, Stephanie Bradberry. American Goldfinches: Avian Conjunctivitis. HubPages, 2011. Web. Today’s date.


Crosby, S. B. (2016). American goldfinches: Avian conjunctivitis. Retrieved from http://www.hubpages.com/hub/American-Goldfinches-Avian-Conjunctivitis.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

  • Am I making the spread and transmission of conjunctivitis worse by keeping backyard feeders?

    Yes and no. It is important to track if you notice any infected birds. If you notice them it would be a good idea to routinely disinfect your feeders.

  • My goldfinch has an eye disease. Will it die?

    Without treatment, your goldfinch will die because it will have trouble seeing and finding food.

© 2011 Stephanie Bradberry


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      John Bryans 

      3 years ago

      Thanks for writing about this, Stephanie. We are saddened to see several of our South Jersey goldfinches affected this year, after seeing just one in 2016.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I was somewhat surprised to see the shot of an American Goldfinch with conjuctivitis in this article. It's my shot, taken on March 17, 2008 at one of my backyard feeders, and I did not receive a request for permission to use this shot! Several years ago, I allowed the Audubon Society of California to use it, but I believe that's the only time I allowed it.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      5 years ago from New Jersey

      Hi Coolgurl,

      I did not know there were centers like this in NJ that would help rehabilitate a bird with conjunctivitis. This is awesome news to me.

      Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you for your article. I am in South Jersey and found a female goldfinch with Conjunctivitis. I had no idea what was wrong with it. A wildlife rehabilitate is caring for it and administering oral antibiotics hoping it will cure it.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      5 years ago from New Jersey

      Hi poetryman6969,

      Thanks. We all have our strengths. For all else, find someone else who is. But with time and patience we can often learn the skills of others :)

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      5 years ago

      Some lovely birds. I am not too good at taking care of animals but I am glad someone is!

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello Michael,

      Thanks for stopping by. It is fun when you get to see birds fairly up close and personal. We only got to see a Baltimore oriole once in our yard. It was literally there one minute and gone the next. I read about them in my bird books and cut an orange in half and tacked it to the tree it was at to try to coax it back to our yard. No luck though. We have cardinals year round, and it is actually the mascot for a lot of schools in my area. They are most beautiful during mating season. Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Michael Milec 

      7 years ago

      StephanieBCrosby, Hi .

      Thanks for so many information Ina relatively short article.

      [ That's my " professor" mastering the English language --your own words to me, formerly (Martus)]

      Watching and feeding birds is least to say quite rewarding pastime.

      Mine feeder hangs roughly 4 feet away from the pedio dor on 2nd floor deck area, giving me a pleasant view to be part of their fellowship in looking at each other.

      American Goldfinches come to the feeder mostly when the sparrows and House finches leave.

      One of the rare beauty the Baltimore Oriole comes seldom and stays only for a very short time ; Northern Cardinals are showmasters in demonstrating of elegant eating, they throw empty shelves of black sunflower seed away...

      Observing their unique behavior , one has to notice each of them given specific features by the Creator to make world more interesting. One of that is a sense of "selfsufficiency " as they build their " houses" create their offspring , take care of them: feed and educate them , bringing to maturity, thus the next season , the procedure would continue. ( Oh, what a lesson for humanity!)

      It's a pleasure to read your pleasantly composed writing.

      God bless you. ( Michael)

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello Movie Master. Thank you for the wonderful comments and feedback. I never heard of the condition either until we heard back from the discussion board. So far so good though, no more birds have shown up since then with the condition.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Stephanie, a very nice article with interesting and useful information.

      What beautiful birds - I had never heard of this condition before.

      I enjoyed reading, thank you and voted up.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      8 years ago from New Jersey

      Hi daisynicolas. My heart really did break when I learned the probably fate of the pair. Right now I am looking out my front window at the sock feeder and all the goldfinches and house finches eating. I keep watching to make sure there are no infected birds. Thanks for reading.

    • daisynicolas profile image


      8 years ago from Alaska

      Thanks for making us aware of this condition. Educational and clear to understand with a lot of empathy.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      8 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello grandmapearl. Thanks for your response to my article. My heart really broke once I found out what the fate was going to be for this beautiful bird, and other finches. I also hope the recent findings from CLO are accurate.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 

      8 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi Stephanie! I have heard and read about this disease, which seems to have such horrible consequences for our beautiful finches. I think it originated with chickens. But I have also read that recently the problem seems to be lessening, according to the latest findings from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I'm hoping that this is truly the case. Thanks for such an informative look at this nasty problem. Voted Up, Useful and Interesting

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      9 years ago from New Jersey

      It is sad. Now every time I see a goldfinch I always wonder in the back of my mind that if I look closer will it be an infected bird.

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 

      9 years ago from The Zoo

      Very interesting info regarding these beautiful little birds. I didn't know anything about them. I'm sorry for the poor little guy, so sad!

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      9 years ago from New Jersey

      Paradise7, thank you. I know, I felt really bad once I knew the end was near for such a lovely bird.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      9 years ago from New Jersey

      ColibriPhoto, thanks so much. I cannot take all the credit for the photography. Usually I just yell for my husband to get the camera. I just make the birds happy so they will keep coming back.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Good info on the finches. Poor thing!

    • ColibriPhoto profile image


      9 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Nice article with good information. It is one thing to like birds, it is another to care about them. When you care it is reflected in your photography and your life. Keep up the good work.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)