Natural control of mitesappi logo

Highly distressing and alarming is undoubtedly the way that most birdkeepers feel about concerns linked with the use of chemical sprays for the treatment of parasitic mites. Yet there needs to be an effective method of control, to curb red and northern mite populations, which can otherwise soar and develop into very serious infestations.

Make no mistake about it – these mites can kill, literally sucking the blood out of young chicks. Even those that do survive will be suffering from anaemia, and the chances are that they will never achieve their full potential if their growth is stunted at this early stage in life. Adult birds too will be affected. There is also the possibility that the mites could spread blood-borne infections as well, and the irritation that they cause can lead to feather plucking.

Part of the problem with red mites relates to their rate of reproduction. Their complete lifecycle, from egg to adult mite, can be completed in as little as five days during warm weather, and this will rapidly lead to a population explosion. On the other hand, these parasites are also capable of surviving in empty cages over the winter, even if the temperature dips below zero, and certainly in mild winters, they may even continue to reproduce if the cages are occupied and they can continue feeding.

Recognising the problem

Red mite Dermanyssus gallinaeSince these mites are tiny, being just barely visible to the naked eye, they are easily missed, particularly as they tend to conceal themselves during the day in nooks and crevices around the birds’ quarters. They often congregate where the perches connect to the back of a box-type cage. An individual, highly magnified image of a red mite (photo courtesy AW) can be seen here on the right.

The best way to spot red mites is to lay a white sheet or towel over the cage at night, and then examine it for signs of tiny red dots first thing in the morning. This will then conform their presence, indicating that you must take action to eliminate these parasites. They obtain their distinctive colour from feeding on the birds' blood.

A different option

Broody henYet if the recent reported cases of bird deaths have put you off buying aerosol sprays to control mites, is there anything else that you can do to curb the numbers of these pests, especially once the breeding season is underway?

The answer is that you can switch to a biological control method instead.  This approach is currently more widely used by poultry keepers than aviary bird enthusiasts, the system relies on microscopic predators that you can buy to control red mites. These simply need to be introduced into the birds’ quarters where they will prey specifically on the mites, causing no harm or disturbance to the birds themselves. 

There is a French company called APPI that breeds these red mite predators, and they can be purchased in the UK from Rob Harvey. Called ANDROLIS®, the product itself is very simple to use, and has no recognised harmful side effects. It is basically a matter of tipping the container into the cage, and letting the microscopic mite predators get to work. They will hunt down red mites anywhere in the birds’ quarters, starting to eliminate them immediately.

How biological control works

Mite controlBiological control of this type is, however, different from the use of chemical sprays. Do not expect the mites to disappear almost instantly in this instance, as this won’t happen. Bear in mind that a typical predator-prey relationship is being played out here, albeit on an almost microscopic scale. Initially therefore, you should soon notice that the mite population stops increasing, and then, as the predators start reproducing and gain the upper hand, so it will tumble. In severe cases though, you may need to add more than one pot of ANDROLIS® to achieve the best effect.

Introducing ANDROLIS® to the birds’ quarters ensures that as long as the parasites are present, this remedy will continue working to eliminate them. When there are no parasites left, so the predatory species simply die out, and pose no hazard to the birds at any stage. It is therefore quite feasible to use ANDROLIS® simply to prevent any built-up of these parasites, just as you would have done beforehand by routine spraying of the birds’ quarters.

Ultimately though, whether you decide to switch to biological control of this type, or decide to stay with a chemical treatment, just make sure that you are vigilant when it comes to dealing with parasitic mites. Otherwise, they are likely to become almost impossible to eliminate without a great deal of difficulty if they invade the birdroom itself,  as well as the cages here.