Safety: Lyme disease


Birdfeeders provide lots of winter entertainment by attracting birds (and mice), but these can carry infected ticks. Though feeders must be placed near cover to provide an escape route for birds, one should make sure that the ground beneath the feeder is bare, and that the feeder is not placed too close to one's house. Clean up the ground around a bird feeder at regular intervals to limit the amount of spoilage and available rodent food. If you live in a Lyme disease endemic area, suspend bird feeding activities during late spring and summer, when infected ticks are most active.

Fences. The construction of 8 foot high fences to keep out deer may significantly reduce the abundance of ticks (and hence the risk of being bitten) on relatively large land parcels. However, smaller mammals and birds still enter, and hence fences cannot totally control the abundance of ticks.

Natural Predators. Studies are underway to evaluate several natural control methods including the effectiveness of parasitic wasps which use ticks as a host for their eggs. The encouragement of natural predators of tick hosts on your property should be considered. Because removal of brush piles, etc. will reduce snake habitat (a natural predator of mice), one might consider erecting a raptor (hawk or owl) box on one's property or in a nearby area. (Please write the American Lyme Disease Foundation, Inc. for further information on nest boxes for raptors).

Pets. Household pets allowed outside in endemic areas invariably pick up ticks and should be examined daily. Dogs and cats do not "stay on paths" and the use of tick collars and/or dips is suggested although you should consult your veterinarian for recommendations. Ticks attached to your animals will not bite you, but loose ticks may brush off and seek you as a host. Checking your cat's ears will help determine whether you live in an area supporting a large tick population as nymphs can often be seen on them in May or June.

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