Red-tailed hawk a victim of West Nile Virus
Stricken bird found in Glen Ellen seems to be recovering well
Bernie Krause, a bird enthusiast and wildlife sanctuary owner, stepped out of his Glen Ellen home at 8:30 on Sunday morning, March 5, and found a very sad-looking Red-tailed hawk just standing on the nearby steps, staring at Barney the cat and obviously in distress. The bird was too sick to even react to the human, and actually fell over as Krause went to put him in a box to transport him to Santa Rosa’s Bird Rescue Center.
The hawk, affectionately dubbed bird #146, was taken in and immediately examined. The best guess without a blood test was that West Nile Virus (WNV) was the culprit, and treatment was started immediately. By March 18, WNV was confirmed, but the good news was that #146 was responding well to treatment. By the first day of spring, the bird was gaining weight and flying a bit in the aviary.
The Bird Rescue Center (BRC) is just off of Chanate Road near the county’s soon-to-be-sold medical complex. Like most such operations, it depends solely on volunteers and donations.
According to their website, “Our mission is to assist in the rescue, treatment and release of injured, orphaned or ill birds in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, and to educate the public regarding their ecological importance.” A job which they have performed well for the past 40 years.
“We know from our experience that when a raptor like a Red-tailed hawk is sick enough to get down on the ground where a human can notice, something is wrong; it is pretty sick,” said Jeremy Nichols, chairman of the BRC board. “Once the bird is that sick, we have a very hard time rescuing them. The recovery rate of a bird like that is probably 50 percent at best.”
So far, #146 is beating the odds.
This is the first confirmed case of avian WNV in Sonoma Valley this year, but not in Sonoma County by any means. “A lot of birds with WNV probably die before they even get to us,” Nichols said. “It’s very possible there have been other cases, but the birds just died in the wild.”
California tracks WNV carefully and has a very informative website at westnile.ca.gov. The facts below were taken from that site.
West Nile Virus is an African import, first showing up on the East Coast in 1999 and fanning out throughout the country very quickly. While it can be deadly, on average less than one percent of infected people come down with serious symptoms. Nineteen percent have mild to medium, non-fatal difficulties, and 80 percent of those infected show few or no symptoms at all.
Statewide in 2016, WNV infected 442 people in 39 counties, in 1,352 dead birds that were examined, and it showed up in 3,500 mosquitos tested for the disease. There were 19 fatalities statewide.
Mosquitos are the vector for the disease. They get it from biting an infected person or animal, and pass it along to the next dinner victim. While almost any mammal or bird can get the disease, birds are more susceptible than most, though horses have been known to be hit fairly hard, too.
The disease is transmitted directly, not by touching or in the air.
“People should be concerned about controlling places where mosquitos can breed,” Nichols said. “That is within their ability to control.”
The Marin Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District is the primary mosquito control agency for the North Bay. Nizza Sequeira, is the public relations director for the agency.
“The number one source for mosquito production is what is in people’s back yards,” Sequeira said. And it doesn’t take a lot of water to provide a breeding pool.
“A mosquito can lay eggs in less than a tablespoon of water,” she said. “Sometimes people forget that children’s toys hold water, as well as wading pools. Some places are not so obvious, like lawn ornaments, sculptures, light fixtures and shields – even fabricated plastic fence posts where lids go missing and water fills up the post. Sometimes tarps over equipment can hold water.”
If invited, District employees will inspect your property and spray to kill potential breeding water with safe chemicals, but people have to call the District. “We don’t go door to door unless we’re looking for the source of a specific problem.”
The District also sets traps to find and test mosquitos, all to identify infestation sources. “If we have a positive sample, we go back and look for source of production,” Sequeira said.
District data notes that in 2016, in Kenwood and Glen Ellen, eight dead birds tested positive along with two mosquito pools. Two dead birds tested positive in the City of Sonoma.
People should report dead birds to the hotline maintained by the California Department of Health. If the bird seems a likely candidate, the District will pick it up and have it tested at state laboratories. The area where the bird is found will be checked and mosquito traps set out for further checks.
Spring and summer are the primary times for spreading West Nile Virus, after spring rains abate and the weather warms up. Now is the time to thoroughly search your property and get rid of standing water that can provide breeding grounds. Check gutters and every possible area than can hold the smallest amounts of water.
Mosquitos tend to bite the most at sunrise and sunset, so dress accordingly.
Call for mosquito abatement: 800.231.3236
Report a dead bird: www.westnile.ca.gov/report_wnv.php