PHOENIX - Every year at about this time in Arizona, the Arizona Game and Fish Department receives calls about bird die-offs in various areas of the state, mostly at urban ponds and lakes. This is a common occurrence and traditionally has absolutely nothing to do with bird flu.
"The strain of bird flu that's being highlighted in the media, which is called the Asian strain of highly pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza, has not been found anywhere in the entire Western Hemisphere at this point," says Mike Rabe, a migratory bird expert with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "Die-offs at this time of year are relatively common in Arizona and are usually because of trichomoniasis or avian botulism."
Trichomoniasis is caused by a tiny parasite that gets passed between birds. Doves and pigeons are especially susceptible. Trichomoniasis can cause swelling and mucous in birds' throats. It also makes birds lethargic and unusually tame. Outbreaks of this disease occur almost every year, and the parasite can be spread easily when birds congregate at bird feeders and birdbaths.
To help prevent the spread of trichomoniasis:
1. Don't put out more seed than birds can consume in a relatively short amount of time. If seed is left over, hygienic conditions can deteriorate, and healthy birds can wind up consuming seeds that have been coughed up by sick birds.
2. If you notice sick birds around your feeder, bring the feeder inside and clean it with a 10% bleach solution. You can clean a birdbath with the same type of solution.
3. If you have a trichomoniasis outbreak in your area, don't feed the birds at all and empty any birdbaths around your home.
Avian botulism is another cause of bird die-offs in the summertime. Botulism is caused by a bacteria normally found in tiny invertebrate creatures in water and mud. When the weather gets warmer and water levels drop, many of these invertebrates die. As they decay, the bacteria inside multiply and produce a toxin. Then birds eat these invertebrates and can die from the toxin. Birds with avian botulism have symptoms like muscle paralysis, lethargy and even difficulty in holding up their necks. It is especially common to find ducks and waterfowl that have died from avian botulism at urban ponds.
The United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services will be testing dead birds in urban areas for avian influenza this year. If you find a large number of dead birds, you can call APHIS at (602) 870-2081. Also, Maricopa County will be sampling dead birds for West Nile Virus. The county’s West Nile Virus hotline is (602) 506-0700, and its Web site is Maricopa.gov/wnv.