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Deaths in Finches and Sparrows 5 (Jan 2004)

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Old Saturday 28th February 2004, 19:49   #1
alcedo.atthis
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Post Deaths in Finches and Sparrows 5 (Jan 2004)

Outbreaks of mortality in wild birds in gardens in the UK were first reported in the mid 1960’s, when members of the general public began to put out bags of peanuts to feed the wild birds. In these first outbreaks most deaths were due to infection with the bacterium Salmonella Typhimurium (abbreviated to S. Typhimurium) and occurred in Greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) and House sparrows (Passer domesticus).Mortality incidents have continued, and since 1995 many post mortem examinations have been carried out at the Avian Health Unit (AHU) of the Veterinary Services Group of SAC (Scottish Agriculture College). The results from these investigations have shown that in Scotland two strains of S. Typhimurium, DT40 and DT 56 variant, cause most of the deaths during outbreaks of mortality, but a strain of the bacterium Escherichia coli referred to as E. coli O86 is also responsible for some of the deaths in wild birds.
Outbreaks of mortality are most often seen in Greenfinches, Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) House Sparrows and Siskins (Carduelis spinus), but other birds such as Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis), Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus|) and Great Tits (Parus major) have also been affected in smaller numbers. During outbreaks of disease, dead birds or sick birds are usually found in the vicinity of the bird feeders. If seen alive the birds are fluffed up, reluctant to fly, and may look as if they are breathing heavily or have difficulty swallowing.
The post mortem examination of birds dying from salmonellosis often reveals substantial Yellow/Orange areas of damage to internal organs such as the oesophagus (gullet), crop, liver, spleen (an organ which tries to fight off diseases) and sometimes the lungs and lower part of the digestive tract. The damage to the gullet can be so severe that it causes a partial blockage, preventing food getting to the birds stomach even if it continues to eat. The post mortem findings on birds dying from E. coli O86 are different. The bacterium doesn’t cause such obvious damage to the internal organs but has the ability to produce toxins (poisons) that prevent the digestive tract from working properly. Birds dying from E . coli O86 typically have much food in the gullet but little further down the digestive tract.
Confirmation of the cause of death requires specialist laboratory facilities for the culture and identification of the bacteria.

Wild bird mortality survey 1995-2002

To find out about salmonellosis in wild birds, post mortem examinations were carried out by the AHU of SAC Veterinary Services on the carcases of 685 wild birds between 1995 and 2002. Carcases were submitted directly to the AHU, or in the case of injured or diseased birds were first taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre. Salmonella was isolated from191 of the 685 wild birds examined. Most of the isolates were the strains of S. Typhimurium referred to earlier, namely DT 40 and DT 56 (variant), and were most commonly isolated from Greenfinches, Chaffinches and House Sparrows. S. Typhimurium DT 40 was the commonest strain of salmonella, found in 118 Greenfinches, 10 House Sparrows and 5 Chaffinches. S. Typhimurium DT 56 (variant) was less common, found in 9 Greenfinches, 15 House Sparrows and 7 Chaffinches. A marked seasonal pattern was noted, with 86% of isolates of DT 40 occurring in the three months January to March. Isolates of DT 56 were less concentrated, with 81% of isolates occurring in the five months November to March. The seasonal patterns for Greenfinches and House Sparrows are shown in Figs 9 and 10.

E. coli O86

The other bacterium commonly causing mortality in garden birds is E. coli O86. Of 64 birds dying from E. coli with the O86 profile between 1997 and 2002, 91% occurred in the months February to May. Thirty-nine of the birds were Siskins, 23 were Greenfinches, one was a Chaffinch and one was a Goldfinch.


Deaths in wild birds in North America, New Zealand and Scandinavia.

Deaths form salmonellosis have not been confined to Sparrows and Finches at bird tables in the U.K. Since 1998, many finches have been found dead around garden feeders in the United States and Canada, mostly Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus) and Common Redpolls (C. flammea), also Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus), House Sparrows and American Goldfinches (C. tristis). As in most of the U.K. incidents, the type of salmonella involved was S. Typhimurium DT 40. Cases of salmonellosis were also reported in domestic cats that had preyed on sick birds around feeders.

A different strain of salmonellosis, described as S. Typhimurium DT 160, caused outbreaks of mortality in House Sparrows in New Zealand in 2000, where there was evidence of disease in humans, (including one death) and in young farmed Ducks and Quail, dogs, cats deer and horses. In one incident in New Zealand more than 400 dead birds were found at one location on one day. Small numbers of greenfinches, Goldfinches and Blackbirds (Turdus merula) were also affected. Mortality reached a peak in the New Zealand winter months of July to August, decreasing to smaller numbers in the following spring and summer. This strain of S. Typhimurium was also found in 15% of wild Sparrows trapped in 1979 in Guelph, Canada, and caused a small outbreak of mortality in House Sparrows in Central Newfoundland, Canada in February and March 1999.
Mortality from salmonellosis in finches and House Sparrows at garden feeding sites has been a regular occurrence in Norway. Of 441 garden birds with salmonellosis in Norway between, 1969 and 2000, over half were Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), although Greenfinches, Siskins, Redpolls and House Sparrows were also involved. As in Britain there was a marked seasonal incidence, with most cases occurring in January to April. Most of the isolates from Norway were S. Typhimurium DT 40 or another strain referred to as S. Typhimurium U277. Deaths have also occurred in wild finches in Finland and Sweden.

Why are the deaths occurring?

Although the mortality incidents in the U.K. usually occur at sites providing supplementary feeding for wild birds, the food is not believed to be the initial source of the bacteria, but rather the cause of the congregation of large flocks of birds in a small area. Some birds probably carry small numbers of S. Typhimurium and E. coli O86 in their intestines, and when the birds congregate at the bird tables and feeding stations a build up of these bacteria may occur, contaminating the feeders and drinkers and the surrounding environment. Under these conditions, the bacteria may then have the chance to overwhelm the birds and cause their deaths.
Clearly prevention is very important, and is based on avoiding a build up of these potentially lethal bacteria. Regular cleaning and disinfecting of bird tables, feeders and drinkers may help, as will periodic change of feeding sites. If the birds can be spread out by using several different feeding sites, so much the better. The areas beneath the feeders can also quickly become contaminated and should be kept as clean as possible, with any uneaten food removed.

Illness in humans and cats.

Human illness from E. coli O86 and from wild bird strains of salmonella is currently uncommon in the U.K., but there is the potential for spread to humans. Several years ago in England, S. Typhimurium DT 160 caused gastro-enteritis in humans who had eaten food prepared in a kitchen in which Sparrows were contaminating the food preparation areas, and this strain also caused disease in humans in New Zealand in 2000. An outbreak of gastro-enteritis in humans was seen in Norway and Finland in 1987, caused by a strain of S. Typhimurium U277 identical to that found in Bullfinches. A link with chocolate produced in one factory was established, and it was suspected that contamination from wild birds may have occurred. Investigations in Norway have also revealed that some “sporadic” cases of sickness and diarrhoea in humans are caused by wild bird strains of S. Typhimurium, especially in young children, and can be associated with direct contact with wild birds or their droppings or playing in areas where wild bird droppings have been observed. Rubber gloves should therefore be worn when cleaning bird tables or if the carcases of dead birds have to be handled, and hands must be thoroughly washed, especially before preparing food. Wild birds should be excluded from food preparation areas.
Pet cats may be at risk from salmonellosis from wild birds. An outbreak of disease in cats in Sweden was seen in February to April 1999, caused by wild bird strains of salmonella. Affected cats lost their appetite and many developed vomiting or diarrhoea. At the same time people were finding sick or dead wild finches, mostly Siskins and Redpolls, in gardens and the same strain of S. Typhimurium was isolated from some of the birds. It was concluded that the sick finches were easy prey for the cats which then became ill themselves. Spread to humans was also reported, either directly from wild birds or from cats infected from wild birds.

The decline in House Sparrows in Great Britain.

At one time considered to be a serious pest of cereal crops and crop stores, the breeding population of House Sparrows in G.B. has fallen from about 12-15 million pairs in the 1970’s to a current figure of around 6 million pairs. Declines were first seen in farmland but the greatest have been in urban and suburban gardens, and it is likely that different factors are responsible for the decline in the different habitats. Farmland is no longer as attractive to Sparrows as it once was, due to a multitude of factors, such as improvements in grain harvesting and storage, fewer weed seeds and invertebrates, changes in grassland management and fewer farmyards in which the birds can forage. However the greatest impact on total population size in Britain has been the decline in the urban and suburban populations. A report by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in August 2002 suggested a number of possible reasons for the fall in the urban and suburban sparrows, including predation by cats and Sparrowhawks, a lack of nest sites due to house renovations, the development of Brown Field sites, and air pollution. The BTO reported also highlighted the possible importance of infectious disease, spread at bird tables and other forms of feeders in gardens.

Studies by SAC Veterinary Services have shown that infection with S. Typhimurium is a common cause of death in House Sparrows found dead in urban or suburban habitat by members of the public in the winter and spring. Between 1998 and 2002, salmonellosis was diagnosed in 22 of 24 House Sparrows (from nine different sites) submitted to the Avian Health Unit during the months of November to March. Monitoring wild bird faeces at garden feeding station in South-West Scotland has also shown that a strain of S. Typhimurium known to cause deaths in finches and House Sparrows can become established in flocks of wild birds feeding at bird tables and persist for over 30 months. It is therefore possible that infection with S. Typhimurium is a contributory factor to the decline in House Sparrows in some locations.

Acknowledgements.

Much of the work carried to investigate deaths in wild birds was funded by The Dulverton Trust and The Game Conservancy Trust. SAC also receives financial support from the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department. An additional generous donation from CJ Wildbird Foods Ltd, Upton Magna, Shrewsbury, will enable further monitoring to be carried out in 2004. The help of all organisation, companies and individuals involved is gratefully acknowledged.

Mr Tom W. Pennycott
Senior Veterinary Investigation Officer, Avian Health Unit
SAC Veterinary Services
Auchincruvie
Ayr. KA6 5AE.

January 2004.
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Old Sunday 29th February 2004, 08:24   #2
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A very informative thread and of great importance to the reasons of certain declining species.
Does the work of the Avian Health Unit cover any of the second generation anti coagulants that are apparent in certain predator species Barn Owl, Buzzard, Red kite and aquatic predators Kingfishers, Grey heron and Grebe.
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Old Sunday 29th February 2004, 09:59   #3
alcedo.atthis
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Second generation anti coagulants

Suricate. A very informative thread and of great importance to the reasons of certain declining species.
Does the work of the Avian Health Unit cover any of the second generation anti coagulants that are apparent in certain predator species Barn Owl, Buzzard, Red kite and aquatic predators Kingfishers, Grey Heron and Grebe.
Suricate

Suricate,
In a few words, I do not know, but I will ask. E-mail off today.

Regards.

One thing for all to note, bird feeders on "Tree type structures" ie wire feeders above others on a vertical frame is not a good idea. Birds feeding on the upper ones, and defecating on the lower ones as they feed, could be leading to the spread of the bacteria problems around feeding stations in gardens.(See comments in main thread about birds carrying small amounts of the disease in the wild.)

Malky @ Westhill
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Old Sunday 29th February 2004, 16:10   #4
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I have had brought to me today two goldfinches one was found dead and the other apparently just dropped out of the sky ?
It was carrying a small piece of peanut in his beak.
He is in the incubator at present after treatment and is showing signs of recovery as he is now feeding on niger and canary mix.
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Old Tuesday 2nd March 2004, 10:53   #5
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Suricate's reference to a goldfinch which was found to have a piece of peanut in its beak when it apparently just dropped out of the sky, reminded me of a web page sponsored by The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust which I read recently. It was entitled 'Wild Bird Food and Aflatoxins' and can be found at:-

http://www.wildlifetrust.org.uk/berk...ns/factsheets/ aflatoxins.pdf

Apparently the Birdfood Standards Associstion set up in the UK some years ago to ensure only safe peanuts were supplied as bird food has now been disbanded in favour of legislation introduced by the European Union. This is supposedly designed to restrict the permitted levels of aflatoxin in food. Part of the website reads:-

'Despite these regulations, many contaminated peanuts appear to be slipping through the net. In a recent study by Trading Standards in Buckinghamshire it was discovered that the aflatoxin levels in 22% of all peanuts tested in the local area exceeded the 20ppb level. This pattern is assumed to be occurring nationally.'

Could this be yet another cause for the continuing decline in songbird numbers here in the UK?
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Old Tuesday 2nd March 2004, 12:33   #6
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Another good thread, and another more probable reason for the decline of the garden birds. Which will take the pressure off the poor maligned Sparrowhawk.
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Old Tuesday 2nd March 2004, 18:26   #7
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The goldfinch has made a full recovery and will be released tomorrow. There is an increase in birds being affected by certain foods and the possibility lies within peoples feeding of birds at their food stations.
It is important that people are aware that it is important to thoroughly clean all bird feeders at least once a week and to move the feeding station frequently wherever possible.
2003 saw an increase in garden bird deaths due in part to poison bringing with it a serious problem of flat fly infestations on birds such as blackbirds and an increase in canker amongst Collared Doves and feral pigeons.
Due to the warmer climate through winter flat fly larvae are thriving as to is the increase in ticks found on certain bird species ( Owls, Corvids )
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Old Tuesday 2nd March 2004, 19:27   #8
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Anthony Morton

'Despite these regulations, many contaminated peanuts appear to be slipping through the net. In a recent study by Trading Standards in Buckinghamshire it was discovered that the aflatoxin levels in 22% of all peanuts tested in the local area exceeded the 20ppb level. This pattern is assumed to be occurring nationally.'

Could this be yet another cause for the continuing decline in songbird numbers here in the UK?

European law states that the levels are not 20ppb, but :-

"The EU has the most stringent levels of aflatoxins permitted in foods anywhere in the world at four parts per billion. The levels permitted in other countries vary considerably, but as an indication, the USA, the worlds biggest consumer of nuts and peanut butter has a limit of 20 parts per billion (ppb), 3 times that of the EU."

The Wildlife Trusts web pages, like others, are out of date!

Please note that there is also the possibility of contamination of aflatoxins in other foods, such as milk, pistachios and Brazil nuts, dried fruit, such as dried figs and apricots, paprica powder and at lower levels, sunflower seeds.

Malky @ Westhill
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Old Wednesday 3rd March 2004, 08:05   #9
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QUOTE = alcedo.atthis

European law states that the levels are not 20ppb, but :-

"The EU has the most stringent levels of aflatoxins permitted in foods anywhere in the world at four parts per billion. The levels permitted in other countries vary considerably, but as an indication, the USA, the worlds biggest consumer of nuts and peanut butter has a limit of 20 parts per billion (ppb), 3 times that of the EU."


If 22% of the peanuts tested by Bucks Trading Standards had aflatoxin levels exceeding 20 parts per billion, then isn't this FIVE TIMES higher than the 4 parts per billion you say are permitted under current EU regulations?

It seems to me that if the peanuts had been tested to the more stringent EU standard, a much higher percentage would have been found to have unacceptable levels of aflatoxin, and therefore unsafe to feed to birds.

The Wildlife Trusts web pages, like others, are out of date!

It certainly seems that way - yet this particular page was last updated as recently as the 2nd February 2004. I will point this out to them!

Can someone also explain if aflatoxin is a 'single dose' killer of birds, or is it as a result of a cumulative effect over a period of time, similar to DDT in raptors?
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Old Wednesday 3rd March 2004, 13:26   #10
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I contacted the BBOWT regarding the permitted level of aflatoxin in peanuts and after checking with the RSPB their answer is as follows:-

a) UK Retail Trade for Wild Birds = Maximim level of 20 parts per billion.

b) UK Human Consumption = Maximum level of 4 parts per billion.

c) UK Farm Animals = Between 1 part per billion to 20 parts per billion.

This indicates that the information I gave earlier, which was based on the findings of Bucks Trading Standards that 22% of the bird food peanuts tested exceeded the maximum level of 20 parts per billion, was correct. Worse still is the suggestion that this situation could well be mirrored throughout the whole UK.
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Old Wednesday 3rd March 2004, 18:53   #11
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a) UK Retail Trade for Wild Birds = Maximim level of 20 parts per billion.

b) UK Human Consumption = Maximum level of 4 parts per billion.

c) UK Farm Animals = Between 1 part per billion to 20 parts per billion.

In 2001 there was a discussion at European bureaucratic level about the import levels in Europe. At that time, there were differing levels for different consumption. It was decided, due to the possibility of cross contamination, ie animal foodstuffs getting into the human food chain to level them all at the same ppb. That was decided at 4ppb.



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Old Thursday 4th March 2004, 07:42   #12
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QUOTE = alcedo.atthis

In 2001 there was a discussion at European bureaucratic level about the import levels in Europe. At that time, there were differing levels for different consumption. It was decided, due to the possibility of cross contamination, ie animal foodstuffs getting into the human food chain to level them all at the same ppb. That was decided at 4ppb.

Regards

Malky @ Westhill[/quote]


Hi yet again!

As a layman, your explanation seems perfectly understandable, but both the BBOWT and the RSPB appear to be quoting old data. Do you have a reference I can refer them to for the latest information, please?

Regards,

Anthony
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Old Sunday 7th March 2004, 09:09   #13
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Aflatoxins and the current levels.

Do you have a reference I can refer them to for the latest information, please?
Regards,
Anthony

Anthony, apologies for the delay. Watchin foreign White-tailed Eagle and White-winged Gulls amoung other things.

European Legislation dated 8th March 2001.

http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/...en00010013.pdf

Amended 12Dec 2003

http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/...en00120015.pdf

Another amendment Dec 2003 for implementation in 2004

http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/...en00290037.pdf

It was proposed that the levels in 2.1.1.2 would be brough up to the same as 2.1.1.1 this month, (March 2004) but this may now be put
back to 2005 or even 2006 due to logistical problems. As peanuts are "groundnuts", these are the 2 sections in "Annex 1", "Section 2: Mycotoxins" which are applicable.
An explaination on the levels for "Non human consumption is in "Article 3"
It takes carefull reading, as most legislation does.


Regards

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Old Monday 8th March 2004, 07:17   #14
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Hi Malky,

Many thanks for a very full answer. I will pass the references on to my contact at BBOWT, with a request they they forward the information to the RSPB.

Regards,

Anthony
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