Last week, when we were walking along the cliff tops south of Seaham, all the blackthorn and hawthorn bushes were alive with the songs of whitethroats. Coincidentally, on the same day I happened to read a recently published scientific paper in the journal Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases , authored by scientists at Health Protection Agency at Porton Down, at the Portland Bird Observatory and at the Food and Environment Research Agency that cast light on a less welcome aspect of the arrival of these annual summer migrants. They found that whitethroats and wheatears were often infested with the tick Hyalomma marginatum that transmits Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, which has occured with increasing frequency in Eurasia and kills up to 30% of its human victims. You can read gruesome details of this disease here.
I remember, years ago, rescuing a swift that had become trapped in a house loft and watching with fascination as a tick crawled out from behind its eye, bit me on the thumb then crawled back amongst the feathers. In the light of this scientific paper, I'd think twice about handling any bird without gloves.