Bird mites are parasitic arthropods also called tropical fowl mites and starling mites. They're very small — less than one millimeter long — and hard to see without a microscope. Adults have eight legs and oval-shaped bodies with short, bristly hairs, while larvae have only six legs. Sometimes bird mites are mistakenly referred to as bird lice. Although they feed on the blood of birds, they can bite humans.
Bird mites are found all over the world, although they're more active in spring and summer in the United States. Mites infest many kinds of birds, including chickens, pigeons, sparrows, starlings, poultry, and mynahs. Adult mites have very sharp mouthpieces to pierce skin, and their coloration changes as they feed. They're white, almost translucent, and become bright red after eating.
Bird mites need birds to finish their life cycle. It takes a little less than a week for eggs to hatch into larva and grow to be mature adults. Some mites live only 7 days, while others can live for several weeks. Although bird mites can bite humans, they can't survive and reproduce on human blood.
Anyone can be bitten by bird mites, but the risk is highest for people with pet birds or chickens and those who work with birds, such as zoo employees or pet store owners. Human contact with mites may also occur when birds build nests in chimneys, attics, and other spaces within structures. Secondhand furniture can also carry bird mites.
Bird mite bites are similar to other insect bites, so an exact diagnosis is challenging. Small red bumps often appear and some people feel a crawling sensation in the area. The main symptom is itching, which can be severe. Scratching can break the skin and lead to bacterial infection. Infection systems include pain, redness, warmth, swelling, and purulent discharge. Doctors diagnosis mite bites through physical examination and questioning the patient to determine if they have been in close proximity to birds or nests.
Mites are so small that they aren't always visible, so thoroughly cleaning the skin is the first step of treatment. Adding emollients to the water can relieve itching. A diluted bleach solution may kill mites on the skin, but no one should use bleach or harsh chemicals of any kind without consulting a doctor. Doctors may prescribe oral or topical antihistamines and steroids for itching and antibiotics in cases of secondary bacterial infection.
Protect yourself from bird mites by wearing protective clothing while working with birds. Make sure all skin is covered and pay special attention to wrists and ankles. Tuck pant legs into socks and shirt sleeves into gloves. Keep mites out of your home by sealing cracks and repairing damaged roofs, eaves, and ceiling tiles. Remove empty nests in any part of the structure. Tens of thousands of mites may be left behind when young birds vacate nests, and those mites search everywhere for new hosts.
Although bird mites are a nuisance to humans, they're a threat to pet birds and poultry. Mites cause anemia that can be fatal for very young, sick, or elderly birds. Infested birds are often restless at night when the mites are more active. Symptoms of bird mites include constant preening, feather destruction, and open sores. Some bird mite species can spread to other animals too.
Take domestic birds to a veterinarian at the first sign of mites. A veterinarian can prescribe oral and topical medications for the birds and safe insecticides to treat the living space. The entire cage, especially perches and nesting areas, must be cleaned, sanitized, and treated. Most insecticides kill adult mites, so repeat the treatment every 2 to 3 days for at least a week to kill the newly hatched larvae. Monitor birds closely and keep living spaces clean to prevent reoccurring infestations.
Address infestations after eliminating the source of mites. Treat infested surfaces, including carpets and furniture, with insecticidal powder or spray, and vacuum the carpets and upholstered furniture daily. Wash all clothes, bed linens, curtains, and tablecloths in the home with strong soap and hot water. Heavily infested carpets or furniture may need to be destroyed.
Severe or reoccurring bird mite infestations require professional help. Exterminators and pest control specialists can identify specific mite species and use powerful insecticides that aren't available to the general public. Special equipment lets exterminators treat hard to reach areas in homes, barns, and other structures. Experienced professionals can also offer advice and suggest changes to prevent future infestations.
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