News Stories

Tracking Bird Flu

Wearing light solar-powered GPS satellite transmitters, wild swans from Mongolia are flying across Eurasia, scientists below them are tracking their journeys on computers in order to figure out how wild birds may be involved in the spread of bird flu.

This research, being carried out by US and international groups of scientists, is providing information on migration routes so governments can learn about when the potential threats of H5N1 bird flu virus could be landing in their areas. UN spokesman Dr. Scott Newman says, "We are working to understand the role wild birds may play in the spread of H5N1. Although poultry and bird trade are probably the primary routes of movement, migratory birds are likely involved in some areas."

The wild swans drew increased attention after large numbers of them died from the flu virus in Mongolia in 2005 and in western China in 2005 and 2006. We have no word on whether they infected anyone in the local population. Researcher William Karesh says, "Although we are sampling wild birds for avian influenza in the field, we will not be able to fully understand their role in this disease unless we better understand their movements?when we find infected birds, we need to know where they are going."

How are the birds themselves coping with the stress?will we wake up one morning to a silent spring? Jeanna Bryner writes in LiveScience.com that birds that live in urban enviroments have more stress than the same species living in the country, but blackbirds, at least, are learning how to cope with it. Second-generation city-dwellers calmly create nests on the sides of tall apartment buildings and raise families there, in places that would considerably stress their country cousins. Coping with stress is a new form of bird evolution?maybe we overstressed humans can learn to do the same thing.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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