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