[BCNnet] Mystery malady stalks birds - article from Tribune about
local bird situation (no sightings)
Randi Doeker - Chicago
rbdoeker at yahoo.com
Sat Feb 12 07:42:34 CST 2005
Two weeks ago COS got a phone call from a woman in the western suburbs with
birds dying at her feeder - much the way the article below describes.
In the absence of any other info, I sent her off to the Audubon.org website
to get instructions on disinfecting her feeder.
If you know of similar problems with birds dying, I am sure there is
scientific value in sharing that with the nature center staff:
Chicago Ornithological Society
Mystery malady stalks birds
Many of Spring Brook Nature Center's birds of prey are sickened by an
unknown ailment, possibly diesel fumes and unusual weather
By Joseph Sjostrom
Tribune staff writer
February 12, 2005
A strange malady, that appeared to strike quickly, killed a great horned owl
and sickened several other birds at an Itasca nature center this month,
leaving staff and veterinarians searching for answers.
A total of 23 birds--owls, hawks, falcons and a vulture--at the Spring Brook
Nature Center were removed from outdoor public view and placed in hastily
arranged indoor cages last week after several of them displayed symptoms of
illness such as lethargy, disorientation and inability to hold down their
food, officials said.
Although the malady has apparently ebbed, officials are hoping to identify
the cause through blood and tissue tests.
A red-tailed hawk, part of the popular flying demonstrations at the center,
was one of the birds sickened.
"The red-tailed hawk was very quiet. The barn owl, which is normally very
animated and is actually kind of a ham, was sleepy, just sitting with his
eyes closed," said Jim Coonan, a volunteer at the center. "It was scary.
Everybody wondered what was going on."
Officials have a few suspicions of what may have happened--one of which
includes an odd confluence of events.
On Jan. 31, a truck crashed near the center, spilling diesel fuel. On Feb.
2, Illinois officials issued a wintertime alert for dirty air. Officials
suspect fumes from the diesel spill, coupled with the subsequent atmospheric
conditions, kept the fumes and other pollutants trapped close to the ground.
A host of other factors also is being investigated, including bacteria,
viruses, fungus and contamination of food or water, officials said.
It was Feb. 2--when the dirty-air alert was issued-- that workers at the
center noticed the red-tailed hawk was sick. The next day, the barn owl
acted abnormally. Over the next few hours, 23 birds were brought into the
"It wasn't a panic situation but definitely there was an emergency
response," said Fred Maier, director of the center.
The birds were brought inside, where all received antibiotics and careful
watching. About five birds showed clear symptoms of illness, and the rest
were presumed affected to some degree.
"Wild birds don't show symptoms of illness until they're really, really
sick," said Debra Teachout, center veterinarian.
On Feb. 5, the great horned owl appeared sick and was later found dead in
A post-mortem exam at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
revealed problems with its liver, lungs and heart, Teachout said. Fluid on
its lungs probably killed it, she said, but tests are being done on tissue
samples to determine the underlying cause.
Tests last week on 10 other birds, including the sicker ones, showed low
white blood-cell counts, indicating a suppressed immune response system,
however, the counts were returning to normal on a few birds, including the
popular red-tailed hawk, Maier said.
Plans were being made Friday to return some of the injured birds to their
outdoor cages over the weekend.
"We're taking it on a day-to-day basis, but we hope to have all of them back
outside by the end of the month," said Maier.
The 25-year-old center has habitat displays, trails and educational
facilities on 68 acres just east of Interstate Highway 290 and south of
Irving Park Road. A popular feature is the center's birds, most of them
raptors, that live in outdoor cages and some of which are used in flying
Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune
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