Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Ultimate Mega-Tick for a Birder?


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.

4 comments:

  1. Fascinating stuff Phil and a great post title! I love your photos too, despite their ticks, it is great to have them back. I wasn't bitten, but as a teenager came across a recently deceased House Martin and was shocked when I saw this huge greenish insect - not sure what, maybe a louse? - crawling over it. I am with you, better not handle without gloves.

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  2. Swifts have the most horrible ectoparasites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crataerina_pallida. I remember relaunching a grounded Swift once while several louse-flies scuttled up my arms . Didn't know about the disease-carrying ticks on Whitethroats and Wheatears - alarming!

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  3. Hi Africa, I suppose swifts, swallows and martins must be particularly prone to ectoparasites because they often use the same nests in successive years....?

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  4. Hi Marianne, I guess a layer of feathers must provide a very comfortable environment for an ectoparasite and the family life of birds in the nest ensures that the next generation is infected. I wonder if ground nesting birds with chicks that don't stay in a nest are less prone?

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