Hawks Aloft Inc.
PO Box 10028
Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

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Hawks Aloft Blog

West Nile Virus & Birds

Mosquitoes can breed in just a couple of tablespoons of water, which is why the gallons of water standing in the bosque are a little troubling when it comes to management of the pests. This year, heavy snowpack, coupled with early warming (before a late cold snap) caused the river to rise higher sooner and stay longer, causing flooding in the bosque. All these forces combined to create a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, bolstering their numbers considerably, and causing a concern for the city as early in the year as April. Since mosquitoes can go from egg to adult in a week, it is high time to start thinking about what we all can do to mitigate the concerns created by an increased mosquito population. At Hawks Aloft, West Nile Virus (WNV) is now at the front of our minds.

West Nile Virus was first detected in New Mexico in 2003. This, of course causes concern for humans—there were six confirmed cases of the virus in New Mexico last year, one of which resulted in death. It is also a concern for horses, who can be killed when infected, and dogs, in whom it can cause heartworm. And, it is also a very serious concern for avian populations. The last time mosquito populations boomed in our state, local Cooper’s Hawk and crow populations were devastated by an outbreak of the disease.

Mosquitoes are a primary carrier of West Nile Virus, which can be devastating to various bird species

Mosquitoes are a primary carrier of West Nile Virus, which can be devastating to various bird species

In birds, the mosquito-born pathogen creates a rapid, traumatic response, resulting in death rather quickly. Taken with the many other threats to birds—like cats, pesticide use, and habitat loss—WNV contributes to a huge overall decline across species throughout the entirety of the U.S. For example, a study released in 2015 indicated that Warbling Vireo populations had been reduced a full one-third solely due to WNV (killing 15 million of the 49 million total population). This strong impact on certain bird populations is related to the fact that the virus multiplies more quickly in an avian host than in, say, a mammal. Over 300 species of birds have been found infected with WNV, which is very troubling considering the very high rate of mortality among them once infected.

Our resilient Avian Ambassador, Aires

Our resilient Avian Ambassador, Aires

Hawks Aloft has been directly affected by the spread of this disease. One year, Aires, a Swainson’s Hawk that came to us in the mid-90’s after being hit by a car in Raton, was found listless on the floor of her mew. Panicked, her caretaker rushed her to Petroglyph Animal Hospital, where she was treated for WNV, spending considerable time in an oxygenated incubator hooked up to a continuous fluid drip until the virus ran its course.  Had she not been treated so promptly, the disease might have caused a plethora of awful symptoms including ataxia, weakness, tremors, loss of flight, blindness, rapid weight loss, and in its final stages, severe seizures. Aires recovered and is happy and healthy today, but many birds are not as lucky.

This year, anticipating the boom in pathogen-carrying mosquitoes, we have committed to vaccinating every single one of our beloved Avian Ambassadors against the virus—that’s 25 birds in total!—so that they will never know the suffering caused by this disease. The conservation work that these birds help us to do is invaluable, and we want to protect their health and safety at any cost, although it is an overwhelming financial burden. The total cost of the vaccinations is around $1,700, straining the budget of our small nonprofit. You can help us to protect our Avian Ambassadors—including many species from a small Saw-whet Owl to large Red-tailed Hawks, and even one American Crow—by making a donation in any amount you are able. Helping us protect our birds means helping to protect birds everywhere by allowing us to continue educating our community about the importance of avian life. Thank you for helping us to continue our mission and for sustaining our Avian Ambassadors through these hard times.

Warbling Vireo by David Powell

Warbling Vireo by David Powell

2 Responses to “West Nile Virus & Birds”

  1. Lynn A says:

    Thank you for a great article and wonderful information, where does one obtain the vaccination for west niles, and for birds of prey we have here in our Long Island Wild life facility, can you suggest referrals or names/info., to learn more about this, the costs, whom does it, whom has the meds needed for vaccs and what is the name of the Vaccination needed, so I can share with our staff here at the wildlife rescue. Thank you for your time.

    Lynn Athans

    • hai-admin says:

      Hi Lynn,

      We worked with a local veterinarian to obtain the vaccines and administer them. I can’t remember the precise name of the brand we used. Shoot me an email if you like and I can get you more details. maggie [AT] hawksaloft [DOT] org. Thanks for your support!

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