So far we have posted only a single account on ectoparasites, i.e. parasites living on the body surface of birds. Birdwatchers simply watch birds, even nesting birds. Photographers on the other hand photograph birds. Hopefully they do not handle nesting bird3. Only aviculturists, or people who keep birds, handle birds and their chicks. So aviculturists are more aware of ectoparasites.
Adult birds have their ways of dealing with ectoparasites, like anting, water bathing, sand bathing, sunning and preening. But not newly hatched chicks that are helpless and depend on the adults to care for them.
Now how do young chicks get infected with ectoparasites? Through reusing old nests. With every reuse, the parasite population builds up. However hygienic the birds are in not dirtying the nest, they do get contaminated through contact with faecal matters and uneaten food.
The case of the Peaceful Dove (Geopelia striata) whose nest is filthy is a case in point (left). Normally doves and pigeone are careful defecating when incubating and brooding. Similarly, chicks are careful where they deposit their wastes. And in many species the adult remove chicks’ wastes via faecal sacs.
Jeremy Lee, who occasionally keeps birds as pets, sent in the account below:
“The dirtiest and most infested bird I have come across is the Rock Pigeon (Columba livia). My first experience was seeing a cockroach-like insect dash in and out of the flight feathers of a healthy looking pigeon in my secondary school. … This brown, flat cockroach-like parasite was very comfortable moving around the pigeon even while its host was busy chasing a mate on the ground.”