Bird flu and wild birds

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    Martin W

      Bird flu becoming more serious, more intriguing (!).

      Though Qinghai wild bird deaths have reportedly slowed, there’s speculation that once these birds migrate south, they’ll carry h5n1. Also, some folk fingering migratory birds as source of the outbreak there, though doesn’t seem too likely based on the evidence (partly as no such die-offs reported on migration routes to the south).

      Authors of a recent paper in Nature found the virus in Qinghai is v similar to that from poultry farms in south China, collected this year; suggest the outbreak may result from one introduction from poultry.
      One of the authors of this paper just accused of leaking state secrets.
      Before this, came accusation that the team did not travel to Qinghai to collect samples, and their research lacked credibility. (Team was much as one that helped identify cause of SARS.)

      Some rebuttals for arguments that wild birds have been spreading the nasty h5n1 variant(s) are at:

      A paper appeared at the same time in Science, by mainland researchers (officially sanctioned). Includes sentence saying Qinghai breeding birds migrate as far as Australia and New Zealand.

      The wildlife disease blogspot cites reports from Philippines that authorities there have contingency plan for flu killing wild birds: “the DA and the DOH will isolate a particular spot where there is a daily death of three percent of the bird population. He said two agencies would isolate the area within a three-kilometer radius quarantine area.

      The agriculture secretary added that if findings become positive, the area will be stretched to a seven-kilometer radius and all the birds stamped out.”
      – reported in online version of a Philippines newspaper.

      Just heard on HK radio: researchers have found the virus from Qinghai more deadly than previous (h5n1 variants), killing chickens in 20 hours, mice in three days.

      Martin W

        Over on the Agonist bulletin board, where it seems conspiracy theories are running amok, and the sky’s about to fall in (indeed, back in June I think, the big pandemic was supposed to be underway already; there may indeed be a major pandemic sometime, but Agonist folk may by then have cried "wolf" too often for that board to be reliable), there’s now a thread for: Qinghai Lake Waterfowl Tracking

        Already, for some reason, has info on migrations of Mallard and Canada Geese in North America, with one soul saying he’d watch for their southward progress. V little, by contrast, re actual migrations of Qinghai Lake breeding birds – maybe facts are just too boring. If – IF – the Qinghai bird flu outbreak indeed burns out (seems past peak) before birds migrate south, and migrants are healthy, maybe not asymptomatic carriers – well, I think some folk will be a bit disappointed. But, there will be more red herrings to chase in cyberspace, even as the poultry industry, I suspect, continues nurturing bird flu like a smouldering peat fire.

        Martin W

          news coming in of mystery illness infecting at least 20 farmers in Sichuan; nine dead so far. Don’t yet know it’s bird flu. Yet, no sooner had I posted to Agonist bulletin board a message including: "I guess some folk will now look to see re wild birds moving from Qinghai." – than I see that Henry Niman, at Recombinomics, already suggesting wild birds from Qinghai are responsible. Says it’s snowed at Qinghai already, and birds moving out he figures – never mind that the infected farmers are in Sichuan basin, which is not a migration/wintering area for Qinghai birds like bar-headed geese. (Again, who needs to worry about facts getting in the way of a good story? Sadly, not Niman. :blink: ) I also posted: "Maybe, instead, starting to see there was truth in notions that vaccinating poutry can lead to silent epidemics, and new virus strains. (extra note: This based partly on assumption the Sichuan outbreak is bird flu – which is by no means certain.)

          – and see re Vietnam to start vaccinating poultry, even tho still concerns about this:

          Bird flu vaccines in poultry are controversial. Flu can sometimes spread silently among vaccinated birds, both evading detection and coming under novel selection pressures that can produce new strains. The current virulent strain of H5N1 emerged among vaccinated poultry in China.


          Martin W

            New page on Avian influenza or bird flu and wild birds has good summary, with focus on Qinghai Lake birds, esp Bar-headed Goose – which winters across much of India.


              Thank you for this thread Martin. I am a new member of this (or any) birding group, a longtime bird-lover and habitat supporter n NZ (with not much knowledge of birds). I am also following the Agonist forum, with special interest in the migratory bird intelligence-gathering.

              I’ve read your recent posts and scanned the material on their links, and would very much like to be able to discuss/learn/assess ongoing bird flu and migration background, news and reasoned speculation here in your new forum.

              Have I got the right idea or should I fly on? :)


                Is this of interest to you Martin? It doesn’t say what strain his neighbours’ poultry had, or even if it was actually avian influenza ("Gidak hamlet, Gunungkidul regency in Yogyakartabut") if validation/follow-up data can be had it could be useful. I just googled Gunungkidul and posted a question on an English-language forum of that name. Saw only ads, no posts, so have no idea what the forum was for, or where it was based. Possibly a tourism site…in which case they are unlikely to confirm any bird flu! Will post anything I learn…unless you tell me I’m in the wrong place with this. I won’t be offended.

                Farmer fights bird flu with herbal remedy By Slamet Susanto The Jakarta Post Publication Date : 2005-08-03

                Avian influenza, better known as bird flu, has put many poultry farmers out of business and caused great concern among the public following reports of it infecting humans. But poultry farmer Margono feels secure thanks to his home-grown herbal concoction. Although he has no scientific proof to back the effectiveness of his herbal remedy, the 71-year-old resident of Gidak hamlet, Gunungkidul regency in Yogyakarta, believes it works just fine. For him, it’s proof enough that none of his hundreds of chickens were infected by the bird flu, even as his neighbours’ chickens were being wiped out by the virus. The concoction is made from boiling certain plants and roots found around his home, ranging from wild ginger, turmeric, to salam leaf and cloves. "To test the herbal concoction, I gave it to my chickens and song birds twice a week. I simply mixed it with their drink. "Thank God, it worked. My chickens are healthy and are not attacked by bird flu even though all of my neighbours’ chickens died of it," said the retired policeman. Margono learned to make herbal concoctions in 2000, when he was always falling sick and forced to take medications. Wanting to stay healthy, for the sake of his children, he turned to herbal remedies. "Back then, I regularly suffered from flu and other illnesses. If I kept on taking pills, it would not have been healthy for my body," he argued. Inspired by reports of the popularity of traditional medicines in the mass media, he started looking out for books on herbal medicine. From such books, he studied each plant for its benefits before making his own concoctions from different herbs. For his first trial, he asked his family members to drink his herbal medicine. For a month, each of his family members took the medicine in the morning and the afternoon. "And it feels good. Although I’m old, I still have lots of energy and do not easily get tired," Margono said. Soon, the elderly man started sharing his remedies with his relatives and neighbours. Now, although his herbal medicine carries no special brand, it is gaining popularity, with orders of around 20 bottles per day coming from Central Java cities like Wonosobo, Surakarta and Purworejo. And in the last three months, at a time when bird flu has resurfaced in many cities, including in Margono’s village, he developed a herbal concoction for chickens. The ingredients are the same as those he uses for people, only the concoction for chickens is made by boiling the herbal leftovers. "The concoction is usually boiled twice, but that’s for people. For chickens I boil the leftovers for the third or fourth time," said Margono. He tried his medicine on young chickens which were given the concoction twice a week. "The result was satisfying; none of my chickens died," Margono said. Just like the time when he first introduced his herbal remedy to his neighbours, now Margono is also introducing it to his neighbours’ chickens. "After my chickens and birds stayed healthy, not getting bird flu, now I give it to my neighbours so they can try it too. I give it to them for free. I’m happy if it also works for them," Margono said.

                Martin W

                  Hi Bird Lover:

                  Thanks for the post.
                  I’d welcome more posts, especially re wild birds and bird flu. (Seems Agonist is weighted towards birds being guilty of spreading bird flu around, too often without even evidence of guilt. [Like shearwaters dying off US coast – seems to be from lack of food, after changes in ocean currents and temperatures.])


                  Martin W

                    Hi Jibidee:

                    Thanks for the post – certainly welcome, tho I’d be sceptical re such a cure (not that I’ve a medical background; just seems flu is tough to cure/guard against – tho perhaps the concoction’s a good health tonic that helps immune systems).



                      Thanks Martin. I agree. Bird info is poorly understood by people who have been…and remain…unaware or unconcerned about the state of the environment and the plight of wildlife worldwide. On Agonist I read (but did not post a respnse to):

                      re some (300?) greenfinches died in urban Christchurch recently. "Bird Rescue want answers after many green finches died in Sockburn at the weekend. The small birds died en masse in as yet unexplained circumstances on Saturday which has angered Bird Rescue co-ordinator Linda Cooper. Poisoning of green finches was not illegal because they were not native birds, she said. "But if people could see their suffering, they would think again. Death is not instant. They can suffer for hours," she said. The alarm was raised by Lynn Styles, who found the dead and dying birds as she walked down her driveway after work on Saturday. Dozens of green finches littered the ground, while others were falling out of trees and foaming at the mouth…"

                      Martin, NB Greenfinches are recorded by DOC et al at nearby Banks Peninsula (Dept of Conservation reserve for migratory birds). I would love to know if any testing was done on the possibly poisoned birds. Since such exotic birds pose risks to native ecology, DOC etc are unlikely to have been interested in a possible poisoning…was anyone checking for H5N1? Do you have contacts that could answer this?

                      Martin W

                        Hi Jibidee:

                        Thanks for follow-up post.
                        No, I’ve no DOC contacts, though I think it extremely unlikely flu was involved here – partly as these were songbirds (and bird flu mainly infects waterfowl; then, huge distance from the very few known outbreaks in wild birds).

                        I posted this to an Agonist thread on species infected by bird flu – starting to get annoyed with the cavalier blame birds attitude prevailing there (with Niman in his office working thro DNA tests and pronouncing on “the story”, when only has v partial info).

                        Ah yes, those asymptomatic wild birds [Niman suggests are spreading bird flu] no one has found [if enough asmptomatic birds flying about with this very nasty strain of bird fly, there would surely be plenty of other birds dying]

                        Never mind that scientists have tested thousands of apparently healthy wild birds for h5n1 here in HK, not found it. (Found in a very few dead wild birds, for sure; and peregrines evidently from captivity; mostly in ornamental birds here – even flamingos, black swans across in Shenzhen. [which migrate about as much as a household pet])

                        But, birds die some place in the world, and here on the Agonist, it’s gotta be bird flu, right? Obvious really. [It can’t be that with ocean changes, shearwaters can starve – that’s ridiculous eh? etc etc]

                        (And yes, reports from Russia now are worrisome.)

                        Real bogey man is farming – intensive farming; helped spawn the S. suis outbreaks in Sichuan, too. Add SARS to that, and whatever else.

                        After a few responses, posted:

                        Those Penfold Park waterfowl were ornamental, just as the flamingos at same time.

                        Like zoo birds. (Anyone trying to suggest the Thailand zoo tigers might be spreading bird flu?” Wouldn’t surprise me here on the Agonist)
                        A wild egret or two at Penfold Park also died of bird flu; in hk, most little egrets are resident, so may well have been just collateral damage.

                        At same time, none of the thousands of waterbirds at nearby Deep Bay/Mai Po wetland affected. none But hey, who cares about such things?

                        Yes, Russian cases might be from migratory birds; but might be, despite definite pronouncements from people sitting at computers in US.
                        Shearwaters with bird flu notions just barmy, without testing/proof.

                        So far, other purported spreads by wild birds looking bad.
                        And of course govts ready to blame wild birds. Who wants to really finger farms? (When HK authors showed problems in farms – inc continuing h5n1 in se China poultry – it was said to be releasing state secrets, and research curtailed.
                        You think that if wild birds really were behind it, there’d be such secrecey and lack of info sharing? )

                        Bah! – real science would be good here.
                        Sadly wanting, even from major organisations (WHO, say – but not an animal health organisation; rather seems int organisation for animal health – OIE – is content to take officials’ comments as gospel, never mind science; or too timid to question? [after email from WHO spokesperson, I tried emailing OIE, no response]).

                        Post edited by: martin, at: 2005/08/08 04:19


                          Totally with you re attitudes. And solutions. And fundamental causes. However I see no reason to doubt the poor wild birds are getting it and spreading it. (And why shouldn’t they, albeit involuntarily, get some of their own back… 47% of seabirds in an NZ study had stomachs full of warming…”development at any cost”….long-lining…battery farming…dioxins…etc etc.)

                          However pls see the message I sent you on Agonist re MaiPo. Looking forward to yr answer.


                            Thanks Martin, I accessed that page earlier via yr home page. I even led the Ags to it, after some consideration. They may pick up some awareness of some of the OTHER beings on the planet….who knows.


                              Any word on the dead/lost tracked shy albatrosses from Tasmania? I know they were in great peril from starvation and long-lines anyway, so I didn’t post that to Ag. But were they tested for H5N1? I want to know because some NZ species migrate only between Tas/NZ I believe. AND I’m very very sad about the albatrosses for WHATEVER reason.

                              Martin W

                                for other visitors: Jibidee asked re closure of Mai Po in spring 94.

                                My reply:

                                Yes, Mai Po was closed for a month or so – by govt as some sort of precaution, even tho no bird flu there. (I thought this ridiculous, but figured it maybe helped birds a little; less chance of someone introducing bird flu somehow).

                                I was helping a guy do some filming, and we had permission to enter; at one point, I waded knee-deep in water of a pond used by hundreds of wild ducks – reckoned there would be bird flu of regular sort in the water, but not the farm bred h5n1.

                                Martin W

                                  Not sure re this albatross.
                                  But read of a “bird race” involving albatrosses – to draw attention to their plight, inc many dying as bycatch from longline fishing.
                                  Transmitters attached to 18 albatrosses, which set off in the “race” in May. All transmissions now lost, as all birds evidently died.
                                  Of course, on the Agonist there would be no doubt re h5n1 being the culprit; but really, look to landlining for major cause, and discount flu.

                                  Model Jerry Hall’s albatross wins the Big Bird Race – on National Geographic site, reporting mid July.

                                  All albatrosses dead in transoceanic race – later report on

                                  (Yes, indeed, would seem some justice if birds struck back after all we do to them.
                                  But I remember a Russian conservationist on tv, remarking that we need nature, nature has no need for us.)


                                    Yes Martin that’s the albatross I meant. I agree on Ag it’s EIBF…Everything Is Bird Flu…on the other hand I see no reason why it should NOT be considered in any massed bird deaths, though it might not be publicised.

                                    I see in Russia they’re “hunting” the “the infected birds flying overhead”….!!! (Presumably serum was obtained via flying dart, and the bird tracked while testing was carried out…irony). Agonist raises good issues about the increased spread of virus this way via carrion, to household pets etc. Also, maybe asymptomatic birds will spread a reduced-pathogenicity strain that gives some level of immunity, either to humans or to birds? cf smallpox/cowpox?

                                    Re greenfinches and forest birds…why should they not get flu if they are cohabiting or co-feeding with infected waterfowl? And do you think H5N1 testing is so active that we would know of newly infected areas as migrating birds return to our (largely uninhabited) shores? These are my sincere and open questions, by the way!

                                    Thanks for the answer re MaiPo. I hoped that was it.

                                    Please advise me how not to keep mucking up the threads. And I even put the wrong answer in “name” on my first one. Feel free to delete/edit my posts to correct this if you can.



                                      Vet Pathol 40:14-24 (2003) © 2003 American College of Veterinary Pathologists

                                      Varied Pathogenicity of a Hong Kong–origin H5N1 Avian Influenza Virus in Four Passerine Species and Budgerigars L. E. L. Perkins and D. E. Swayne United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, 934 College Station Road, Athens, GA "..AI viruses have been isolated from numerous wild and domestic avian species, and wild waterfowl are regarded as the primordial reservoir hosts of these viruses…" This statement is pretty clear and is stated throughout the literature… that statement by no means is an out for the pitiful and filthy way that chickens and other animals are farmed, and in no way reduces that fact that the farming methods will obviously contribute to the explosion of the pandemic flu as I feel the route of transmission will be from the wild waterfolws, to the farmed poultry, possibly to swine and then human to human… and since SE asia has all of that living together in filth and poverty it will emerge from there most liekly.

                                      Martin W

                                        Hi Jibidee:

                                        Thanks again for post.
                                        Maybe can also start new threads, here in bird flu and wild birds forum, or all our eggs in one basket, as it were.

                                        For the finches:
                                        As I understand it, bird flu passed between birds via faeces. Seems to me a likely reason that mainly infects waterbirds, esp ducks, geese and swans: they swim (and many feed) in water they defecate in; birds like typical geese graze on grass they defecate on.
                                        For songbirds, and especially forest birds, I’d reckon it far harder to come into such contact with bird faeces/diluted faeces – so less bird flu. (A paper I cited in info and links page showed something like this).
                                        Indeed, as mentoned in paper cited in next post, by monkeyes2, no songbirds found with h5n1 during outbreaks in HK parks (at Kowloon Park, I’ve watched munias – small finches – feeding on grain put out for the captive ducks, yet even they were evidently uninfected).

                                        So, with infection of finches – esp a lot of finches – unlikely, plus no known h5n1 for thousands of km, no hint of it being nearer (no likely h5n1 caused waterbird deaths in NZ, say), I believe testing superfluous.


                                        Martin W

                                          Hi Monkeyes2:

                                          Thanks for the post.

                                          Rather odd paper, to me.
                                          – take a virus (the h5n1 variant, or part of the current family of variants) that’s known to kill a range of species, from flamingoes through ducks and geese and crows, to tigers, cats and humans, iinfect some captive songbirds with it, and discover that Hey, they (mostly) die.

                                          Yes, I believe you’re broadly right about the route to humans. (Various literature indicates this.)

                                          Seems what you need for flu that can threatens human is:

                                          1. Take Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (or even mildly pathogenic) from wild birds – where it causes few or no apparent problems; and cannot infect humans.

                                          2. Introduce to farming, maybe from ducks taken captive, maybe from wild ducks that mix with captive.

                                          3. Allow it to evolve; perhaps in poultry (for reasons in above post, wild junglefowl maybe had little flu, so a species barrier).
                                          Maybe some more evolution in pigs – till recently, I believe this had been thought crucial to get a flu that could infect humans.

                                          4. If conditions right, Presto! – you get a virus strain/variant that can cause problems in humans too. (From what I recall of stuff I’ve read, maybe this has led to waves of flu outbreaks/pandemics, which could be dangerous as a new virus for us to deal with.)

                                          Extra step 5, for h5n1: vaccinate poultry. If New Scientist right, this allows the new n nasty virus – “superflu” New Sci dubbed h5n1 variant – to smoulder in poultry, bit like a peaf fire it appears.

                                          This way, you have a new virus at the end of all steps – something that was never present in wild birds.

                                          So, I’d suggest that saying “wild waterfowl are regarded as the primordial reservoir hosts of these viruses..”
                                          is somewhat akin to saying “rocks are regarded as the primordial source of nuclear weapons”

                                          Question, though, is whether once introduced from poutry to wild birds, the new superflu can be transmitted by them.
                                          Evidence so far: no. It can kill them, for sure. Maybe they can transmit locally, but this hasn’t been proven.
                                          But so far, wild birds haven’t been efficient vectors of h5n1 variant, while poultry industry has spread it around much of Asia just fine.
                                          (Russia situation unclear; but more info needed. Should, however, wonder why Russian outbreaks not reported till July – by which time, migratory birds should be ready to fly south [not birds hopping north from Qinghai]).

                                          Remember, too, wild birds don’t vote, have little economic importance, v little strategic importance.
                                          All factors v different to poultry industry.
                                          So, wild birds make easy scapegoats. Readily blamed by arm-waving. (Yet I watch, too, for reports as Qinghai birds move south. My guess: h5n1 will have burned out amongst them by then. But, a guess.)


                                            Thanks Martin for answers

                                            next time I’ll put different issues in different threads

                                            BTW Monkeyes posted to yr 2004 Bird Flu & Wild birds thread at Agonist, bringing the thread up front where I could see it and I brought myself up to speed with that discussion. (Not that I remember ALL of it)

                                            Martin W

                                              following another post to Agonist’s qinghai birds tracking thread, which yet again brought up the ducks and geese that died of h5n1 in Hong Kong parks, plus mention of h5n1 being found in Guangdong geese, I posted: Someone else already mentioned re the nesting areas of Great Shearwater. Nesting away from predators that can pop down burrows and eat young, eggs, adults. So, offshore islands favoured – kinds of places with few other birds except other nesting seabirds. Discount shearwaters; realm of fantasy. (They’re rather like albatrosses, nigh on classic oceanic birds; can even drink seawater, excreting salt thro tubes on bills.

                                              Any gulls you see are gulls, quite distinct from shearwaters, and coastal or even inland living.) Surely, for potential vector, you’d want bird that can more readily get infected by faecal to oral route (key way for birds I believe): ducks, geese and swans that live much of time in water, with some species grazing on grass (excreting as they go) – which I think explains why regular bird flus naturally high in these birds, and they’re unaffected by such regular flus.

                                              Plus, of course, poultry – you ever see some of the footage from inside some of China’s poultry farms, with great numbers of birds, denselye packed, and loads of faecal slurry around (mixing in with water from attempts to clean it – runoff from cleaning likely to water courses, hence giving another means of likely spread)? Those geese in Guangdong were from farms. (Geese winter further north in China; they’re hardy birds that don’t travel far south – bar-headed being exception, still tough, but unable to winter so far north coz of Himalayas, so for large proportion flying over them to India.)

                                              Rather as the flamingo, and all ducks and geese recorded with h5n1 in Hong Kong. Take a look at my Dead Ducks Don’t Fly and Info and links re bird flu pages, where I tried to gather the reports of bird flu in wild birds to around summer 2004. If you’ve more reports that credible, please let me know. (Looking here before would have halted need for unnecessary posting re HK ornamental birds as if they are wild. Similarly, black swans in Shenzhen died from bird flu. Again, just as "wild" as those Thai zoo tigers. Again, we humans making birds victims, not vectors.)

                                              HK annually hosts tens of thousands of wild waterbirds: cormorants, gulls, ducks, shorebirds, herons… So, surely you’d expect wild ducks to sicken and die from bird flu if it was spread from parks – and to do so before any purported spread to places thousands of km away, but birds that can’t fly as wings clipped (or in case of Guangdong geese, in farms, and taken off to markets for eating, or movement to other farms). Instead, none have (yet) done so. 


                                                If the virus kills poultry in 20 hours and mice in 3, what happens if the mice carrying the virus get into homes? Would there be a chance of the virus from mice to humans?


                                                  If the virus kills poultry in 20 hours and mice in 3, what happens if the mice carrying the virus get into homes? Would there be a chance of the virus from mice to humans?

                                                  Martin W

                                                    Hi Janeice:
                                                    With proviso: I’m a birder, not disease doc.
                                                    I think [not certain, not re-reading paper just now] the mice were injected with vaccine. If such injected mice got into homes, maybe their faeces could carry virus, so if these can enter food, or otherwise perhaps to mouths (children touching surfaces, maybe), maybe virus could enter people – but even then, it’s a poultry flu and we’re not chickens.

                                                    That said: after all the poultry infections in China, surely many mice (and rats) have been in vicinity of, sometimes in contact with, infected chickens and their droppings. Yet no records I know of, of wild mice/rats with H5N1.

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