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Bird flu

Updated Tuesday, 27th February 2007

Amidst a snowfall and fears of bird flu Spring is beginning to make its presence felt.

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A man gathers feathers for bird flu testing Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Lisavan | A man in an overall plucking the feathers of a bird's corpse and putting them in a plastic bag to be analysed for bird flu Bird flu, what effect will it have on people and wild bird populations. Well the short answer is no-one knows. There are all sorts of dire predictions about what might happen if the deadly form combines with the human virus but this might take very many years to happen if it happens at all.

There has been plenty of speculation about how the disease is transmitted to farmed birds where it is rapidly fatal, but what happens to the virus in wild birds, does it kill just as quickly and if so then is this the reason why only one or two infected birds have landed on these shores. During migration many birds are under extreme stress, reaching their physiological limits of fast flight over large expanses of oceans or barren deserts. So you would expect stragglers with any kind of disease to be weeded out immediately, resulting in only clean birds arriving here.

However there are other migrant species that take a much more laid back approach, making the journey over several weeks if not months and may only reach their furthest destination if the weather is bad on route or food supply runs out. This year the weather has been mild and there is plenty of food about so many of the migrants have simply not bothered to come here at all.

On top of all this ‘standard’ long distance migration there is a huge amount of shorter distance migration from the near continent and daily commuting between feeding and roosting sites. Much of the information on bird movements has been discovered by the British Trust for Ornithology over many years of painstaking research often relying on volunteers to carry out the work. I am sure most of the volunteers had no idea that their records might have important biosecurity implications.

The flu was briefly eclipsed in the news by snow, the right kind of snow for a change which came and went within 2 days. The whole country seemed to take the day off to go and build snowmen, I must have seen about 30. I also saw loads of fieldfares and redwings in the hedgerows so some of these thrushes did make it to UK but were only visible when all their fields were covered so they had to search out berries rather than worms.

Only a few days previously there had been a red admiral butterfly sunning itself then flying around outside my house as if it were September not February. Of course all the snowdrops and winter aconites are in full flower and some of the daffodils around here have been in flower for two weeks already.





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