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Disease threatens garden birds

The public is being urged by conservationists to help with tracking a spreading bird disease that in recent years has taken a hold of many garden birds, and particularly the Great Tits, which are being spotted with lesions that are caused by the disease.

The first case of British avian pox was confirmed by scientists in 2006, prior to that the virus was only found in birds in Austria, Slovakia, Scandinavia and the Czech Republic.  The pox virus, last year, reached Oxfordshire in Wytham Woods that has a Great Tit population that scientists have monitored since 1947, and is the longest running study in the world of its kind.

When the disease was first detected many were very concerned, said Edward Grey Institute’s Ben Sheldon. Avian pox produces tumour-like, warty growths in birds close to their beak and eyes. It has an effect on a number of British birds like the House Sparrow, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon and Starling, but it affects the Great Tit worst of all.

London’s Zoological Society’s wildlife vet Becki Lawson said that on the Great Tits the lesions can be much more severe that with other species. They appear most commonly on the head and are quite large, but also can be seen on other parts of the bird’s body.

It is unknown as to whether or not the infections are lethal but nonetheless they affect the bird’s vision and ability to fly meaning they are more prone to be victims of their predators. The virus is spread via direct contact between individual birds or through insect bites and through indirect connect at places like bird feeders or perches. Work is being done to try and isolate the avian pox virus.



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