A tui pauses between a feed of sugar water. Photo by
The kindness of strangers may be leading to the untimely
deaths for some of our native birds, a southern bird lover
Mixing sugar and water together may not seem a recipe for
disaster, but left for several days could be deadly for
unsuspecting nectar-feeding tui and bellbirds, Russell Evans,
of Invercargill, said.
"We could be killing them through our kindness."
Mr Evans and his wife, May, have noticed fewer native birds
around their bush-clad Otatara home this winter and, after
witnessing a tui gasp for air, the couple knew something was
The couple sent two tui specimens to Massey University for an
autopsy, which revealed the birds tested positive for
aspergillus, a respiratory disease caused by a fungus
Massey University avian and wildlife health senior lecturer
Brett Gartrell said while it was unlikely the tui contracted
aspergillus from dirty sugar water, unclean practices would
result in the death of birds.
Salmonella and candidiasis - the same bug which causes thrush
in humans, were deadly to birds and could lurk in unchanged
sugar water unless containers were emptied and cleaned, he
Mr Evans said he did not want to discourage people from
putting out sugar water for birds - a vital source of
nourishment during winter, but urged people to put out just
enough food to last a day and then when finished wash and
sterilise the container.
"It just takes one person not to do this and we can have a
lot of sick birds on our hands. Once you see a bird gasping
for air, it is basically curtains for it."
Department of Conservation scientific officer Ralph
Powlesland, of Wellington, said sugar water was an essential
food source during the winter months for nectar-feeding birds
such as tui and bellbirds.
It was important people continue with the practice of putting
out sugar water in colder southern areas as there were fewer
nectar sources available to birds.
"It doesn't matter what sort of container it is in, as long
as it is a clean container."
How to feed nectar-feeding birds sugar water. -
> Dilute one cup of sugar with two litres of water in a
> Put out just enough sugar water to last for a day
> Wash the container each day
> Sit back and wait for the birds to arrive