Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bird Die-off Worrying Experts

Avian illness hits Ojai Valley doves, cross-species infection feared

By Linda Harmon
Low-flying birds, flapping their wings, ruffling their feathers, and opening and closing their beaks may be sending out distress signals. Pigeons, doves and even some area hummingbirds have already succumbed to an infection of trichomoniasis.
According to the California Department of Fish and Game web site, the protozoan that causes the illness, Trichomonas gallinae, is a parasite that has been found in pigeons, doves, quail, turkeys, chickens, falcons, hawks, various finches, the Java sparrow and canaries.
“I’ve had seven birds in the last week brought to me,” said Kim Stroud, who rescues ill and injured birds at the nonprofit Ojai Raptor Center.
Experts believe European settlers first brought the trichomoniasis parasite to North America by importing pigeons and doves. The infection can be fatal within four to 18 days causing starvation due to blockage of the bird’s throat by lesions and masses. The disease is spread from bird to bird in crop feeding or by contamination of food and water by an infected bird. When an infected bird having oral lesions tries to feed, pieces of food that the ill bird cannot swallow may fall back into the shared food or water.
“It’s probably best to eliminate feeders all together, but if folks decide to keep them, there are precautions they can take to minimize the spread of the parasite to healthy birds,” said Dr. Ben Gonzales, a Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian.
Stroud recommends discarding possibly contaminated seed, and cleaning all feeders and birdbaths with a bleach-water solution ratio of one to 10 to keep from spreading the infection. The organism can live at least five days on some moist grains and 20 minutes to several hours in water.
Although the disease has never been reported to infect humans, officials warn it is the most important disease of mourning doves in North America and has been seen from Bahrain to Berlin. Other birds such as domestic and wild turkeys, chickens, raptors (hawks, golden eagles, etc.) may also become infected
“It can spread like wildfire and to a variety of other bird species,” said Gonzales. Falcons and hawks can become infected after feeding on dead doves, owls and songbirds have also contracted the disease.
According to the DFG. over the last 18 months personnel have investigated and confirmed trichomoniasis along with avian botulism, avian cholera, mycoplasmosis, salmonellosis, exotic Newcastle disease and West Nile virus outbreaks in various wild bird populations serious enough to warrant public notifications.
Although exact numbers of bird deaths are impossible to calculate, Gonzales believes the number to be in the thousands so far this year.
Stroud will accept any bird that the public finds in distress but officials want to remind the public to use caution with the birds. Individuals should wear gloves and always wash with an anti-bacterial soap afterward.
“The quicker I can treat them the better,” said Stroud, who treats the ill birds with medication to try to stop the progression of the disease. “Isolate the bird by gently placing in a lightly covered box and call the Raptor Center at 649-6884.”
Stroud reminds the public to get tree trimming done quickly as the warm weather is bringing baby season early. Late tree trimming, she said, can disturb local nesting sites and threaten breeding.

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