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Austria ignores widespread bird deaths

Austrian officials say they have no plans to act and are not even monitoring the situation after thousands of dead birds were reported across the country apparently as a result of infection by trichomonosis.

In the United Kingdom the widespread deaths of birds resulted in an information campaign and a request for members of the public to inform the Garden Bird Health Initiative about possible deaths of birds from the disease.

But in Austria the only reason the problem is even been mentioned briefly in the news is because an animal rights campaigner from Upper Austria commissioned the Vienna veterinary University to look at why she had managed to find 64 dead birds on her 17,000 metre property at Hartkirchen in Eferding.

Despite the positive diagnosis of the disease the Upper Austrian regional veterinary director Karl Wampl said: "There is currently no wide-ranging research being done into this subject. If the number of deaths increased significantly however maybe it might become a topic for discussion."

Since summer 2005, trichomonosis, a disease caused by a microscopic parasite, has been reported in finches in gardens all over Europe but now the problem seems to have become severe.

Greenfinch populations have been particularly badly hit but also chaffinch, swallows and even pigeons and parrots have been known to suffer and die from the disease.

Animal rights campaigners say that because the disease is only confined to birds and does not pose a threat to humans or other animals it has been given little priority.  The trichomonad parasite lives in the upper digestive tract of the bird, and its actions progressively block the bird’s throat, making it unable to swallow food. The bird dies from starvation.

Birds with the disease show signs of general illness, for example lethargy and fluffed-up plumage, but affected birds may also drool saliva, regurgitate food, have difficulty in swallowing or show laboured breathing.

Transmission of infection between birds happens when they feed one another with regurgitated food during the breeding season, and through food or drinking water contaminated with recently regurgitated saliva.

Animal activists say that environmental officials should not be ignoring the problem and although there is little that can be done there are some steps that could be taken.

One of those is that any garden owners who notice or suspect the disease in local birds should temporarily stop putting out food, and leave bird baths dry until sick or dead birds are no longer found in the garden. This is to discourage birds from congregating together, which may increase the potential for the disease to spread between individuals.

They also said that the regular cleaning of all feeders, bird baths and feeding surfaces, is an essential part of looking after garden birds and will help to lower the risk to birds of diseases in general.

In England the Garden Bird Health initiative (GBHi) was set up to become a major research and surveillance project studying garden bird health and disease outbreaks. But in Austria there is no similar initiative.

The group develops and publishes guidelines about how to best feed garden birds in order to maximise the benefits for their welfare and conservation, and minimise the risks from infections. It also researches into the impacts disease outbreaks can have on bird populations. They urge people who discovered dead birds in the UK to get in touch so they can monitor spreading the disease.

Vienna Times

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