Recently, I started getting calls from homeowners about finding dead birds in their yards. A few years ago, we also received a number of calls on birds dying.
It turned out that West Nile virus was the cause of these deaths. This virus mainly attacked blue jays and crows in the beginning, but soon spread to other birds.
The College of Veterinary Science at the University of Georgia did a two-year study on the effects of West Nile virus on the birds. They captured birds in every county in Georgia and took blood samples to see if the birds had West Nile virus.
What they discovered was that the bird population had developed a resistance to the virus.
So, if the birds are resistant to West Nile virus, why are we finding dead birds in our yards now?
There seems to be two culprits associated with these birds. The first is an outbreak of salmonella, and the second is ticks.
One of our county extension agents in North Georgia started getting calls on dead birds found around bird feeders. He sent some of the dead birds to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) in Athens to find out what caused their deaths.
All of the birds were found to have died from Salmonella, which is a bacterium that is found in both wild and domestic birds. Birds that are in good health or not under stress are able to withstand the disease, but they become more susceptible when the concentration of birds around bird feeders and bird baths grow.
Cold weather is another factor that can stress the birds and cause them to succumb to the disease. As the bird population in an area grows, the bird feces contaminate the bird feeders and bird baths and the birds ingest the bacteria. So, this is a disease problem that is usually seen during the winter.
If you are feeding birds, there are a number of things that you can do to help reduce the incidences of salmonella. The first thing is to practice sanitation. Disinfect the bird feeders, baths and the area where the feeders are located. Use one part bleach to nine parts water for a disinfectant. A good practice is to clean the feeders and baths at least every two weeks.
If you have found dead birds in your yard, remove the feeder to disperse the birds. Then, clean the area thoroughly, getting rid of any residual seeds that are on the ground. The SCWDS recommends that the feeders stay down for a month.
The second item that can cause birds to die or to act strange is ticks. Bird ticks are most commonly found on the head and necks of birds, possibly because the birds are unable to remove these ticks during preening.
When looking at the birds, you will notice a large, grayish mass on the head. Most of the time, the mass will be near the eyes. When the tick attaches itself to the bird, it introduces saliva. A component of this tick's saliva causes paralysis in birds. The paralysis first affects the wings and legs, preventing the birds from flying and walking. Eventually paralysis progresses until the bird becomes unable to breathe.
To attempt to rescue the bird, recommendations are that you wrap the animal in a towel to keep it from struggling. Pick the ticks off, examining under the feathers carefully to be sure all have been removed. If the ticks are near the eyes, the recommendation is that you leave them on the bird. The skin around the eyes is very tender and can be damaged while removing the ticks.
Avian rehabilitators suggest then placing the animal in a large paper bag or box for a few hours to allow it to recover before it is released in the wild, where it might be at a disadvantage if it encountered predators before regaining flight ability.
Researchers at UGA are trying to find out as much about these ticks as possible. Our entomologists would like to have the tick specimens. If you find a bird with bird ticks and can remove them, you need to place them in a small sealed container with rubbing alcohol. You can bring the ticks to my office and we will send them to Athens.
We will need the following information:
the date the bird was found;
the species of bird;
whether the bird is a juvenile or adult; and,
your phone number, if you do not mind our calling to follow up.
These ticks are specific to birds and do not attach themselves to humans or other animals.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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