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home : birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020


11/25/2009 11:26:00 AM
Birds of a different feather -
A fouled Great Black-backed Gull (top) and a warted American Crow (bottom).  Photo by Don Reimer
A fouled Great Black-backed Gull (top) and a warted American Crow (bottom). Photo by Don Reimer
by Don Reimer


In writing a weekly birding column over several years, I try to combine photos of local birds with some relevant information on each given species. By their very nature, most birds are beautiful, graceful creatures that add a sense of interest and inquiry to our lives.

Sometimes however, for reasons beyond their own control, birds are not so beautiful to the eye. Just as people sometimes experience illnesses or misfortune, so too with individual wild birds. Recently I photographed two such birds in the greater Rockland area that were struggling in different ways.

In the American Crow photo (bottom photo, above), you will notice some warty growths on areas of the bird's head and body. This crow has a viral infection called avian pox that often results from mosquito bites to the bare skin areas of the body. The virus cannot penetrate intact skin, but can find pathways through skin wounds or the soft tissue areas around the face, eyes, legs or feet. Similar to chickenpox in humans, this virus runs its course and may result in the eventual death of an infected bird if the eyes or breathing apparatus of the bird are compromised. Birds that survive the virus develop immunity to future outbreaks. Diane Winn, director of the Avian Haven Rehabilitation Center in Freedom, explains that infected birds can be successfully treated and released in some cases. This past September, a fledgling Northern Mockingbird was treated at the rehabilitation center and released in October. This bird-specific virus cannot be transmitted to humans, but it can spread to other birds sharing common areas such as feeding stations or watering areas.

The gull (top photo, above) is an adult Great Black-backed Gull that had fouled its feathers in some type of reddish sludgy substance. On the morning that I spotted the gull about two weeks ago, its underparts were thickly coated from the bird's upper belly area to the end of the tail. The large gull was busily engaged in cleaning itself with its thick heavy bill. Although the bird was a real mess at the time, the wings were free of debris. Oil or other contaminants stress a bird's entire body system. Normal, healthy feathering keeps the bird warm and dry by preventing air and water from penetrating inward to the skin surface. Following a series of oil spills in recent decades, successful techniques were devised for cleansing oil-soaked birds and animals using detergents and careful rinsing and drying procedures.

In the case of the Rockland gull, the bird survived his unsightly ordeal and has since removed much of the reddish residue. Given half a chance, most birds are true survivors.





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