Why Do American Goldfinches Get Avian Conjunctivitis?

Story Highlights
  • Why was an American goldfinch male infected in a backyard in central New Jersey? American gold finches belong to the same family of House finches, Fringillidae. Conjunctivitis has been reported in Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Grosbeaks. It is not surprising that they belong to the same family. However, it is scarce. Studies show that the number of songbirds infected has increased.

Goldfinch Eye Disease

As a bird-watcher who loves to take pictures, it always excites me. It is even more true because I do my best to feed the birds and do anything I can to get them in the frame so my husband can capture the photo. Not every image will make it. It was the same with a picture that appeared perfect of a male American goldfinch and a female.

A Nearly Perfect Picture

My husband said, “Hey honey, look at this.” One of our bird photos showed a female and male American goldfinch eating off our thistle bag. It was the perfect time to add a photo of our state bird. It looked as if the male bright yellow bird was missing an eye.

The excitement about uploading a new photo to our website began to fade. The pale female was fine, but the mate wasn’t so perfect. What was wrong? Our pictures were posted on an online discussion forum: We first heard about the goldfinch: “Your bird is suffering from conjunctivitis.” The poor bird will likely die soon.

What is Avian Conjunctivitis?

A parasitic bacteria cause conjunctivitis. The typical symptoms for a male goldfinch were red, swollen eyes with water or crust. The bird’s eye can become crusty or swell up as the disease advances, rendering it blind. Birds that are infected have difficulty feeding, as they can’t see.

The symptoms were strange since conjunctivitis can be a respiratory infection. The bird was breathing. The disease is more common in House finches than American goldfinches. I needed to find out more about the condition.

History of the Disease

In 1994, the spread of avian syphilis was noticed when House finches with the above symptoms were seen in Washington, D.C. House, finches used to be found only in Mexico and western North America until the 1940s. The birds were illegally sold in 1941 as “Hollywood Finches” by a New York pet shop. Knowing authorities would inspect his store, the Brooklyn owner released the birds.

The birds successfully reproduced in the wild. The birds in the east became inbred because there were so few. Inherent species are more susceptible to health problems and physical ailments.

Why was an American Goldfinch infected?

Why was an American goldfinch male infected in a backyard in central New Jersey? American gold finches belong to the same family of House finches, Fringillidae. Conjunctivitis has been reported in Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Grosbeaks. It is not surprising that they belong to the same family. However, it is scarce. Studies show that the number of songbirds infected has increased.

I didn’t want to infect the other birds because we have many different species of birds living in our backyard. All I could imagine was that the female goldfinch from our photo would get sick like her mate. I had to know what to say.

Helpful Ways to Help

Disinfection is the best way to prevent infection. Sanitizing feeders can be cleaned with one (1) bleach and nine (9) warm water. Allow them to dry completely before rehanging them in your yard. Rake:  Raking under feeders is another way to stop the spread of infection. This will remove any seeds, bird droppings or shells that may be contaminated. It is safe to handle a feeder an infected bird has infected since this strain does not affect humans. Some people get confused by the fact that humans can also contract conjunctivitis—pink eye.

. Avian conjunctivitis, however, cannot be transmitted from birds to humans—report:  Report infected birds to Cornell University’s bird-watching study.

Great Sources

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

All About Birds

. Cornell University, 2011.

Cite this Article


Crosby, Stephanie Bradberry. American Goldfinch: Avian conjunctivitis. HubPages, 2011. Web. Today s date.

Recommended for You


Crosby, S. B. (2016). American goldfinches: Avian conjunctivitis. Retrieved from

The author has done his best to ensure that the information in this article is accurate. This article is not intended to replace veterinary medical professionals’ formal advice, diagnosis, prognosis or treatment. A veterinarian should be consulted immediately if an animal displays signs or symptoms of distress.

Question & Answers

Does my goldfinch have an eye disease? Will it die?

Answer Your goldfinch is likely to die if you do not treat it. It will be unable to see and find food.

Does it matter if I keep backyard feeders or not?

Both yes and no. You should keep track of any infected bird. It is important to disinfect your feeders if you see them.

(c) 2011 Stephanie Bradberry


John Bryans March 6, 2017:

Stephanie, thanks for sharing this. This year we have seen several South Jersey Goldfinches that are affected after only seeing one in 2016.

Lindaflee February 12, 2017

The picture of an American Goldfinch suffering from conjunctivitis was a bit surprising to me. This is my photo, taken March 17, 2008, at one of my backyard bird feeders. I didn’t receive any permission to use it! I permitted the Audubon Society of California a few years back, but that was the only time.

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey), on February 24, 2015.

Hi Coolgurl,

I didn’t know ere are centred in N.J., like this one, that can help rehab a bird suffering from conjunctivitis. I am so excited to hear this.

Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing!

Coolgurl February 21, 2015

I appreciate your article. I live in South Jersey and found a female Goldfinch with conjunctivitis. I didn’t know what it was. It is being cared for by wildlife rehabilitation, and oral antibiotics are administered in the hope that they will cure.

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey) on January 27, 2015.

Hello poetryman6969

Thanks. All of us have strengths. Find someone who is. With time and patience, we can learn from others’ skills.

poetryman6969 January 27, 2015

These are some lovely birds. Remarkably, someone else can take care of the animals.

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey) on September 23, 2012.

Hello Michael,

Thank you for visiting. You can enjoy seeing birds up close. A Baltimore oriole only visited our yard once. It was there for a minute and then gone. After reading about them in bird books, I cut an orange into half and taped it to the branch it was on to try and coax it home. But no luck. The cardinal is a year-round resident in my area. It’s also the mascot of many schools. The Cardinals are at their most beautiful when they are mating. Thank you for reading!

Michael Milec September 22, 2012

StephanieBCrosby, Hi.

Thank you for sharing so much information in a short article.

You, Martus (formerly), are my “professor” in mastering the English Language.

It is a rewarding hobby to feed and watch birds.

Mine feeder hangs approximately 4 feet from the period on the 2nd Floor Deck Area, giving me a lovely view of being part of their fellowship by looking at each other.

American Goldfinches will likely come to your feeder when sparrows or House finches have left.

The Baltimore Oriole is a rare bird that comes and goes very quickly. Northern Cardinals, on the other hand, are masters of elegant eating. They throw away empty shelves of black sunflower seeds.

One of the things that you will notice is their unique behaviours. The Creator gave each one specific characteristicsThe Creator gave each one particular characteristics to make life more enjoyable. They have a strong sense of self-sufficiency as they build “houses” and raise their children. They also care for their offspring, feeding, educating, and bringing them to maturity. What a lesson to humanity!

Your writing is very well written.

God bless you. ( Michael)

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey) on June 11, 2012.

Hello Movie Master. I appreciate your comments and feedback. I had never heard of this condition until we received feedback from the discussion forum. Since then, no other birds with the state have been seen.

The United Kingdom released the movie Master on June 11 2012:

Hello Stephanie, this is a great article that contains exciting and helpful information.

This condition is new to me.

Thank you for the great read. I voted it up.

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey) on April 25, 2012.

Hi, daisynicolas. When I heard the likely fate of the couple, my heart broke. As I look out my front window, all the house finches and goldfinches are eating at the sock feed. I am constantly checking to ensure that there aren’t any infected birds. Thank you for reading.

daisynicolas, Alaska, April 25, 2012.

Thank you for making us aware. It was very informative and easy to understand.

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey) on December 1, 2011:

Hello, grandma pearl. Thank you for your comment on my article. MY HEART BROKE when I learned what would happen to this beautiful finch and others. I hope that the findings of CLO are correct.

Connie Smith of Southern Tier New York State, on December 1, 2011:

Hi Stephanie! This disease has been on my mind since I first heard about it. It seems to be causing such terrible consequences for our beautiful finches. I believe it was chickens that caused the disease. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s latest findings, the problem has also decreased in recent years. I hope that this is true. This is a very informative article. This article was voted valuable and exciting.

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey) on May 23, 2011.

It’s sad. Whenever I see a goldfinch, I wonder if it is an infected bird.

Mrs Menagerie at The Zoo, May 22, 2011.

These beautiful little birds are fascinating. I knew nothing about them. It’s so sad for this little guy!

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey) on May 5, 2011:

Paradise7 is grateful for your help. I was unfortunate when I realized that the end of such a beautiful bird was close.

Stephanie Bradberry, author (New Jersey) on May 5, 2011:

ColibriPhoto – thank you so much! I can’t take full credit for the photos. I usually shout at my husband to grab the camera. I make the birds happy to keep them coming back.

Paradise7 – Upstate New York, May 5, 2011

Finches are exciting birds. It’s a poor thing!

ColibriPhoto taken in Quito, Ecuador, on May 5, 2011:

Good article. To care about birds is quite different from simply liking them. Your photography and life will reflect your care when you show it. Keep up the great work.

Matt Suh

As your go-to expert for everything one-of-a-kind, Matt is here to help you capture and share life’s most important moments. Find thoughtful gifts, creative ideas, and endless inspiration to create meaningful memories with family and friends.

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