There are several species hat can affect pigeons. All have four pairs of legs (when adult) and a round body. Most mites are tiny. Only one species can be seen easily with the naked eye- the red mite, see blow- which is the most common parasitic mite of pigeons in Britain. Prevention of mites depends in part on loft hygiene; regular spraying or brushing of the loft with Harkamitex or Duramitex Plus will prevent red mites in particular from becoming a problem. It is important to ensure that the spray penetrates all cracks and crevices in the structure, which is where the mites hide.
The Depluming Mite (Cnemidocoptes laevis)
This mite is sometimes known as the “mange mite”. It causes @feather rot@ , a condition that results in feathers falling out (as distinct from breaking off). The mite is microscopic and lives in the feather follicles at the base of the feathers. The excreta of the mite builds up, forming a ring of whitish matter around the base of the quills- a useful sign of true feather rot. Mites travel from bird to bird by direct contact, affecting either small areas on the body or, in bad cases, spreading to all parts.
Red Mite (Dermanyssus gallinae)
The red mite lives in cracks and crevices in the loft during the daytime and emerges at night to infest birds and to suck their blood. It is the pigeons’ blood that colours the mites red; before a feed they are grey in colour. Red mites are capable of living without nourishment for long periods and infestation may even persist in a loft that has been empty for a year. The female mites lay up to 400 eggs and the larvae hatch as early as two days later. Reproduction is affected by temperature because it does not take place on the birds. For this reason warm weather usually increases the risk of sudden attacks. In severe cases, red mite will cause anaemia (pale mouth and throat) and slow growth in nestlings. Young birds and adult birds are often driven from the nest. Regular disturbance at night by biting mites during the racing season is likely to reduce performance.
Feather Mites (many different species)
Several types of feather mite are known to infest pigeons. They are again microscopic in size and cause feather damage, usually seen as indented areas on the edges of feathers. In severe cases feathers become brittle and break off and the plumage appears neglected.
Quill Mites (usually Syringophilus bipectinatus)
these invade the interior of the quill during the formative stages. Quill mites usually only have a slight effect on the plumage, with older feathers sometimes splitting at the base.
Lice have six legs and are larger then mites. They live permanently on the body of the birds, feeding on feather dust and skin scales. Heavy infestations cause irritation and disturbance, resulting in birds that are below peak condition. Sometimes a series of small round holes may be found in the wing and tail feathers, caused by lice eating through the sheath whilst the feather is still forming. The commonest species is the slender pigeon louse (Columbicola columbae) which is 2mm long and can be seen between the barbules of the wing flight feathers. The eggs, or “nits”, adhere firmly to the feathers and hatch after a week. Immature lice become mature and reach their egg-laying stage in 3-4 weeks.
Other Invertebrates that can affect Pigeons
Most significant external parasites- those above plus others such as ticks and hippoboscids (“louse flies”), are usually effectively treated with products applied directly to the bird. However, insects such as louse and stable flies need to be controlled within the loft. Regular spraying with Harkamitex will usually reduce the insect population to an acceptable level. Serious fly problems may need to be tackled using products such as fly strips.