October 2, 2003


Outbreak of West Nile virus not as extensive as last year—
Fewer sick birds at Raptor Center

While West Nile virus has hit local owls and hawks this year, the damage to the raptor population has been considerably less than last year, Raptor Center Director Betty Ross said last week.


Photo by Diane Chiddister

Raptor Center Director Betty Ross checks on a sick great horned owl.


“It’s definitely not as bad this year,” Ross said in an interview last Friday. “A lot of the birds were wiped out last year and a lot of them gained immunity.”

This year, according to Ross, 17 owls and hawks with suspected West Nile virus have been brought to the Raptor Center, which is part of the Glen Helen Ecology Institute. The affected birds have come from across the Miami Valley, including Tipp City, London, Wilmington, Troy, Springfield and New Carlisle.

“There’s no hot pocket,” she said. “They’re coming from everywhere.”

This year’s number is far fewer than last year’s, when 79 sick raptors, suspected of having the virus, were brought to the center in August and September, Ross said. Of the 79, only about 15 percent survived, she said.

Most of the sick birds at the center this year have died, but a few seem to be recovering.

In Greene County, 29 birds were tested for West Nile virus, three of which tested positive, according to Deborah Leopold of the Greene County Combined Health District. Leopold said that the state stops testing after finding two positive results in a county. The infected birds were a dove, a crow and a blue jay, Leopold said.

Leopold said that since June the health department has received about 110 calls regarding ill or dead birds. Three Greene County horses have also tested positive to date for the virus, and no other animals are believed to be infected.

There have been no instances of the suspected virus in humans in Greene County, she said, although a death in Montgomery County was recently linked to West Nile.

According to the Ohio Department of Health’s Web site, 50 Ohioans have been infected by the virus this year, and four have died from the disease. Last year there were 299 probable cases and 31 deaths.

This year the first birds that tested positive in Ohio were found in June, according to the Web site, and 189 of 1,903 birds tested have tested positive, along with 657 mosquito pools. Statewide, 37 out of 227 horses have tested positive.

Infected birds tend to look very immobile and are often found just sitting in a yard or field, Ross said. Other symptoms include dilated eyes, drooping wings and bobbing heads. The species most affected seem to be great horned owls, red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s hawks, she said.

Ross encourages people who find sick birds to bring them to the center, since without intervention, they have no chance of survival. She also advises always using caution when dealing with wild animals.

At the Raptor Center, the birds are given supportive care, which includes rest, warmth and nutritional supplements, Ross said. There are no antibiotics to address the virus, she said.

After last year’s epidemic of West Nile, the Raptor Center stocked up on syringes, tubes and food to treat infected birds, and also vaccinated all of the center’s birds, none of which, Ross said, have come down with the disease this year.

This summer’s rainy weather both helped and hindered the spread of West Nile, according to Leopold, since the rain provided favorable breeding grounds for mosquitos but may also have washed away the insects’ eggs.

Leopold urged Greene County residents to protect themselves against the virus by wearing long-sleeved clothing and insect repellent and by clearing property of standing water. Birds, animals and humans can contract West Nile by being bitten by an infected mosquito.

“People have to realize that until we get a good frost, the insects are still out there,” she said. “Especially at dusk, they’re very active.”

—Diane Chiddister