UK Garden Birds Hit by Avian Pox Virus

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Conservationists are calling on the public to help efforts to track the spread of a bird disease that has taken hold in garden birds in recent years, with great tits particularly badly hit by the lesions it causes.

In 2006, scientists confirmed the first case of avian pox in a British great tit – before then, the virus had been confined to birds in Scandanavia, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Last year, the pox virus reached Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire, which contains a population of great tits that have been monitored by scientists since 1947, the longest running study of its kind in the world.

“We were very concerned when we first detected this disease,” said Ben Sheldon of the Edward Grey Institute at the University of Oxford. “We’re using our detailed observations to try to understand how this new form of pox affects survival and reproductive success.”

Avian pox leads to warty, tumour-like growths on birds, particularly around the eyes and beak. It is known to have mild effects on a wide range of British birds such as the dunnock, house sparrow, starling and the wood pigeon. But things are worse for great tits.

“When we see this infection in great tits, the lesions can be a lot more severe than in other species,” said Becki Lawson, a wildlife vet at the Zoological Society of London. “[The lesions] can be very large, most common on the head, but they can occur on different areas of the body. It seems not uncommon for multiple birds to be affected in any one incident.”

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Environmentalist, Animal Lover, Birder,Equastrian
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