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MO-Birders - 

I was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today about birds being affected
by West Nile Virus (see below).  I spent more time telling the reporter that
human destruction of habitat was much worse for the birds than West Nile and
how we were bringing the Eastern Bluebird back by putting up nest boxes -
but this is all that went into the article.

I also mentioned I was a member of SLAS - trying to get a plug in - but it
didn't get into the story either.

...Dave Faintich
Olivette, MO


West Nile decimates 7 species of birds across continent By Seth Borenstein
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


Below is the link to the story.
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/sciencemedicine/story/7EFD
BA8747D1C0D7862572DE000A0271?OpenDocument

Here is the story.

New research confirms what local birders have long known:

Birds that once flourished in suburban skies - robins, bluebirds, crows and
others - have been devastated by West Nile virus.

According to a first-of-its-kind study, populations of seven species have
had dramatic declines across the continent since West Nile emerged in the
United States in 1999. The research, to be published today by the journal
Nature, compared 26 years of bird breeding surveys to quantify what had been
known anecdotally.

"The first couple years after West Nile Virus hit, we saw almost no crows,
no blue jays," said David Faintich, 63, a bird-watcher from Olivette.

"I bird a lot in the St. Louis area," he said. "I've noticed it,
particularly here in St. Louis County."

Study co-author Marm Kilpatrick, a senior research scientist at the
Consortium of Conservation Medicine in New York, said his work showed the
virus' "serious impact."

West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquito bites, has infected 23,974
people in confirmed cases since 1999, killing 962, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the disease has been far deadlier for birds. The death toll for crows
and jays is easily in the hundreds of thousands, based on the number of dead
bodies found, Kilpatrick said.

It hit the seven species - American crow, blue jay, tufted titmouse,
American robin, house wren, chickadee and Eastern bluebird - hard enough to
be scientifically significant.

Only the blue jay and house wren bounced back, in 2005.

The hardest-hit species has been the American crow. Nationwide, about
one-third of crows have been killed by West Nile, said study lead author
Shannon LaDeau, a research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird
Center in Washington. The species was on the rise until 1999.

The crow population in Illinois is about 35 percent smaller than what
researchers estimated it would have been without the virus's effect. Around
Baltimore and Washington, populations were 90 percent below expected levels,
LaDeau said. Missouri was not included in the study.

While crows are scavengers and often disliked, they play a key role in
nature by cleaning up animal carcasses, LaDeau noted.

Researchers will next look into what species benefit from the disappearance
of crows.

Maryland appeared to be the epicenter of bird deaths. Chickadees, Eastern
bluebirds and robins there were 68 percent, 52 percent, and 32 percent below
expected levels in 2005.

In Illinois tufted titmouses and bluejays were also hard-hit, according to
the study. Robins, house wrens and chickadees were not as highly affected.

"That heavily packed urban corridor is a bad place to be a bird," LaDeau
said. "The reason for that is that the mosquito prefers human landscape.
They do very well in suburbia."

The researchers looked at 20 species that were regularly counted each
breeding season.

Thirteen of those, they found, were not down because of West Nile.

Other species may have been affected by West Nile, biologists said, but
there were no breeding surveys to quantify the problem.

Bird enthusiasts and biologists alike say the bird populations can rebound.

But local birders said they haven't seen it yet.

Cathie Hutcheson said about 150 crows used to roost in the oak and hickory
trees behind her house in the countryside near Carbondale.

"We had a huge roost of crows that you could hear every night," said
Hutcheson, a birder and a board member for the Southern Illinois Audubon
Society.

"They caw, and they have a little chortle noise and a growly noise."

But since West Nile, she said, fewer gather in the oak and hickory trees.

"We can't hear them anymore."

David Hunn of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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