Bird lovers still see evidence of virus
By Elizabeth Putnam
Wausau Daily Herald
Saturday, March 22, 2003
Connservationists fear spring will bring more bouts of West Nile virus, potentially causing a mass die-off of birds.
Already a bald eagle tested positive for the virus in February, according to the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, a nonprofit bird rehabilitation, education and research center. And fewer birds have been seen in the area over recent weeks, supporting data compiled by the Wausau Bird Club early this year that count totals dropped by 2,125 birds in 2002.
The warmer weather has brought uncertainty to many birders who suspect several birds have died in recent months from West Nile virus, which swells a bird's brain and impairs its mobility.
Jane Raymond-Wood, president of the Wausau Bird Club, said she has seen few birds at her feeder. She fears the disease has hit songbirds.
Although Raymond-Wood is looking forward to the spring migration of birds, she said it may look bleak for most birds.
"It's not likely this thing will just pass over us," she said. "It's a matter of whether or not it will get worse."
The effect of the virus, which is thought to be mosquito-borne, was seen mostly in raptors in central Wisconsin. But there have been some reports in the past few weeks of dead blue jays around area feeders, said Marge Gibson, executive director of the Raptor Education Group.
"We really don't know what's going to happen this spring," Gibson said. "We will see if the disease was just a light case last fall or whether it really has affected hundreds of birds. We are all doing the best we can to figure it out."
A bird count in May will give conservationists a better idea of how severe the problem is, said Lynn Ott, member of the Wausau Bird Club and an avid bird feeder.
"We think the birds are passing the virus through parasites, too, so it could be severe," Ott said.