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Wave of avian influenza hitting Black-headed Gulls | BTO

16 Might 2023

Black-headed Gull, Dawn Balmer / BTO

Avian Influenza is killing massive numbers of Black-headed Gulls at inland and coastal breeding colonies throughout central and northern England, prompting fears amongst scientists {that a} new wave of the illness could possibly be constructing.

As many as a thousand Black-headed Gulls are thought to have been killed by Avian Influenza at Marsh Lane Nature Reserve close to Coventry, whereas round 800 are feared to have died at RSPB St Aidans, close to Leeds, and round 250 at Rutland Water. The vast majority of sick or dying Black-headed Gulls confirmed to have Avian Influenza have been reported from websites between Buckinghamshire and Yorkshire, with instances additionally reported in Surrey and Montgomeryshire.

Though solely a comparatively small variety of lifeless birds are examined for Avian Influenza, present sampling suggests very massive numbers of Black-headed Gulls are prone to be affected. All lifeless birds of any species ought to be reported to BirdTrack, which permits researchers to observe the illness’s geographical unfold, and to Defra, which is able to resolve if a selected case reaches the edge for testing. These sources point out that greater than 4,000 Black-headed Gulls have died in simply the previous few weeks, and that the mortality price is growing. 

This determine already represents 1% of the 140,000 pairs of Black-headed Gull thought to breed within the UK every year. Worryingly, the breeding inhabitants has already been in decline for quite a lot of years, and the species was positioned on the Amber Checklist of Birds of Conservation Concern in 2021. The affect Avian Influenza could have on this already struggling species stays unclear, but when the present price of mortality continues it has the potential to have a big affect on this acquainted and charismatic species. Black-headed Gulls nest alongside different species, corresponding to Frequent Tern, Sandwich Tern and Avocet: there are issues that these too is perhaps affected.

Related mortalities amongst Black-headed Gulls have been reported in France earlier this yr, adopted by birds within the Low International locations, Italy and Germany. Knowledge from chook ringing present that Black-headed Gulls that breed within the UK usually spend the winter in western continental Europe earlier than migrating north, indicating a attainable route of transmission. If the lack of breeding Black-headed Gulls is replicated throughout Europe, which appears probably, this could possibly be the subsequent chapter within the affect that this already catastrophic illness has had on European breeding seabirds, and can be prone to considerably scale back the variety of wintering birds that return to the UK subsequent autumn and winter. 

Members of the general public are reminded to not decide up lifeless birds and to maintain canines on results in forestall them from scavenging on carcasses.

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