- Thousands of birds have fallen from the skies over Esperance,
Australia, and no one knows why. Is it an illness, toxins or a natural
phenomenon? A string of necropies in Perth have shed no light on the mystery.
All the residents of flood-devastated Esperance know is that their "dawn
chorus" of singing birds is missing.
- The main casualties are wattle birds, yellow-throated
miners, New Holland honeyeaters and singing honeyeaters, although some
dead crows, hawks and pigeons have also been found. Wildlife officers are
baffled by the "catastrophic" event, which the Department of
Environment and Conservation (DEC) said began well before last week's freak
- On Monday [8 Jan 2007], Esperance, 450 miles southeast
of Perth, was declared a natural disaster zone. District nature conservation
coordinator Mike Fitzgerald said the 1st reports of birds dropping dead
in people's yards came in 3 weeks ago. More than 500 deaths had since been
notified. But the calls stopped suddenly last week, reportedly because
no birds were left. "It's very substantial. We estimate several thousand
birds are dead, although we don't have a clear number because of the large
areas of bushland," Fitzgerald said.
- Birds Australia, the nation's main bird conservation
group, said it had not heard of a similar occurrence. "Not on that
scale, and all at the same time, and also the fact that it's several different
species," chief executive Graeme Hamilton said. "You'd have to
call that a most unusual event and one that we'd all have to be concerned
about." He expected birds would return to the area once the problem
-- natural or man-made phenomenon -- was fixed but said it was vital the
cause was identified. The Department of Agriculture and Food, which conducted
the necropsies, has almost ruled out an infectious process.
- Acting chief veterinary officer Fiona Sunderman said
toxins were the most likely cause but that the deaths could be due to anything
from toxic algae to chemicals and pesticides. Sunderman said there were
no leads yet on which of the potentially hundreds of toxins might be responsible.
Some birds were seen convulsing as they died. Michelle Crisp was one of
the 1st to contact the DEC after finding dozens of dead birds on her property
one morning. She told The Australian she normally had hundreds of birds
in her yard but that she and a neighbor counted 80 dead birds in one day.
"It went to the point where we had nothing, not a bird," she
said. "It was like a moonscape, just horrible. But the frightening
thing for us, we didn't find any more birds after that. We literally didn't
have any birds left to die."
- It would be helpful to know what the necropsy results
are, what toxicology tests have been run, and whether a screening for insecticides,
organophosphates and/or avicides has been done. Although they claim to
rule out infectious disease, one wonders what tests have been done.
- The article here does not give us enough information
to speculate but does mention that this die-off has been occurring for
approximately 3 weeks. Therefore, it is likely that we can rule out storms,
as pointed out in the article. With so many species involved over a large
area, it is possible to rule out avicides, or certainly put them farther
down on a differential diagnosis list. But otherwise, we are no closer
to understanding the cause.
- If there is any more information from an authoritative
- available, we would appreciate hearing it.
- Photos of New Holland honeyeaters can be found at
- Photos of yellow throated minors can be found at:
- Photos of wattle birds can be found at:
- Photos of singing honeyeaters can be found at:
- Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD
- Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics
- Univ of West Indies
- Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" message
- Also my new website:
- Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa
- Go with God and in Good Health