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Malaria is killing off many of our native birds

An upsurge in Malaria is killing off many of our native birds, such as Chaffinches, Sparrows, Nightingales and Owls. The bird experts have warned that at least 30 species of birds in Britain are affected, and increasing numbers are succumbing to the disease.

They blame the spread of the tropical disease on the mosquitoes that are enjoying the warm and wet climate the UK is currently enjoying.

It is estimated that 30% of house sparrows in the UK are now affected with malaria, up from less than 10% in 1990. Two thirds of the nation’s 38,000 Tawny Owls have also been hit, whereas just 1/40 had the disease in 1996, and the infection amongst Great Tits has increased five-fold to 15%. All three of these species are non-migratory, and therefore can only have been infected by mosquito bites in the UK.

The disease, which infected birds carry with them when they migrate, can’t spread to humans. Graeme Madge, from the RSPB, said that malaria is circulating in the UK, but the levels are still low. It isn’t always fatal as many birds have a natural resistance to it, but if there are new strains or different types of mosquito, the danger to the already declining bird population is very real.

He added that the climate change that brings warmer weather conditions will favour the colonization of some insects that currently cannot survive here, but soon will be able too, and this also could cause the disease to spread further. The population of Sparrows has declined by 67% since 1970, and the numbers of Nightingales have dropped by 90%, various reasons are given such as predators, a threat to their habitat and other diseases.

A professor of Ornithology from Oxford University, Ben Sheldon, has said that malaria is a significant cause of the current high mortality rate amongst British birds, but the transmission of it isn’t straightforward and it is a hard disease to predict.


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