West nile in California magpies – 08/27/2005

  • November 11, 2013 at 10:35 pm #952

    Magpie Deaths Worry West Nile Virus Researchers
    August 26, 2005


    UC Davis researchers studying the effects of West Nile virus on wild
    bird populations report an alarming number of deaths among the
    Central Valley’s signature bird, the yellow-billed magpie.

    Their concerns led them to ask the California Department of Fish and
    Game, which has the job of conserving the state’s wild birds, to
    assemble a special group of scientists as soon as possible.

    “We are concerned that mortalities due to this epidemic may endanger
    the existence of the species,” wrote Walter Boyce, a veterinarian and
    expert in wildlife health, and Holly Ernest, a veterinarian and
    expert in wildlife populations and genetics.

    Yellow-billed magpies are found only in California. They are large,
    black-and-white birds with long tails and loud, squawking voices.
    Until this summer they had been common in Central Valley
    neighborhoods and farm fields.

    Ernest and Boyce have a number of studies under way to assess the
    effects of West Nile virus on magpies and their close relatives, jays
    and crows. In one study, Boyce’s research team at the UC Davis
    Wildlife Health Center has attached small, “backpack” radio
    transmitters to more than 40 birds to track their movements and to
    alert the scientists if the bird dies, so that tissue samples can be
    collected quickly.

    In another study, Ernest’s team at the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics
    Laboratory is examining whether West Nile virus has caused a loss in
    genetic diversity in magpie populations. Such a loss could make the
    species less able to cope with environmental changes, including
    diseases. The team developed molecular tools specific for yellow-
    billed magpies and is comparing magpie DNA collected before West Nile
    virus entered California with samples collected recently. Similarly,
    the researchers have developed molecular DNA tools to examine whether
    the virus is changing the population structure of crows, Swainson’s
    hawks and red-tailed hawks statewide.

    Ernest also has established a corps of “citizen biologists” who count
    magpies, jays and crows on their commutes to work, or as they
    exercise on walks, runs and bike rides. More volunteers are needed
    throughout Central California.

    http://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/wildlife/projects_BBB.html, or e-mail
    Ernest at wildlife@….

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