Studying how drought affects an endangered species

Researchers from CDFW – WIL, UC Davis, and USGS have been working in partnership to study how drought affects the endangered Amargosa vole.  This work includes assessing the range-wide distribution  of the vole and the factors which influence their distribution, continued captive breeding of the species for protection against extinction, and habitat restoration.  If you would like to learn more about the project please follow the link to the CDFW drought webpage.

New publication describes the prevalence and impacts of toxoplasmosis in Amargosa voles

Recent work from Amanda Poulsen (UC Davis) in partnership with researchers at CDFW-WIL  has been published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.  This work examined the prevalence and potential impacts of toxoplasmosis in the wild Amargosa vole population.  To access the paper abstract, click here.

Full reference: Amanda Poulsen, Heather Fritz, Deana L. Clifford, Patricia Conrad, Austin Roy, Elle Glueckert, and Janet Foley (2016) Prevalence and Potential Impact of Toxoplasma gondii on the Endangered Amargosa Vole (Microtus californicus scirpensis), California, USA. Journal of Wildlife Diseases In-Press.

Disease outbreak in Pine Siskins

The Wildlife Investigations Lab is monitoring pine siskins for mortality this winter. Pine siskins are a type of finch that are mostly brown in color with a bright yellow wing stripe that live in forested areas in California primarily during the winter. Pine siskins are an irruptive migrant, meaning they can be found in high densities in certain areas in some years, but often absent the next. This migration pattern is likely determined by food availability and weather conditions.

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Examination of a pine siskin that died of Salmonellosis.

This winter pine siskins have been reported in numerous areas throughout California with larger concentrations occurring along the central and south coasts as well as around Redding, in northern California. Increased mortality of pine siskins has been reported in several of these areas since mid-December. The Wildlife Investigations Lab has evaluated carcasses from these locations and determined the cause of mortality to be Salmonellosis, a disease caused by Salmonella bacteria.

Salmonellosis occurs periodically in some years in pine siskins throughout their range. Previous outbreaks in California occurred during the winter of 2012-13 and in 2015. Birds become infected with Salmonella bacteria when they ingest food, water, or come into contact with objects (e.g. bird feeders, perches, soil) contaminated with feces from infected birds. Sick birds often appear weak, have labored breathing, and may sit for prolonged periods of time with fluffed or ruffled feathers. Salmonellosis is highly fatal in pine siskin, with most birds dying within 24 hours after infection.

Salmonellosis in pine siskins is almost exclusively reported from locations with bird feeders that attract increased numbers of birds. Residents can help reduce transmission of the disease by removing artificial sources of food and water (bird baths and fountains) as these may increase disease transmission between individual pine siskin, and possibly other bird species, because they bring birds into closer contact than would occur normally.

Dead birds may be reported to the Wildlife Investigations Lab to help determine locations and numbers of birds affected during this Salmonellosis outbreak.

If sick birds are observed, please contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitation center for advice.

Another Turkey Vulture Poisoned by Euthanasia Drugs

CDFW Wildlife Investigations Laboratory has confirmed that another turkey vulture has been poisoned by the veterinary euthanasia drug pentobarbital near Inverness, in Marin County (see map below). The massive bird with its six-foot wingspan has recovered and will be released near Inverness (Marin County) on Tuesday, August 11 at 2 p.m. Reporters who would like to see this vulture return to the wild should call 415-806-8637 Tuesday for the exact location.

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CDFW confirmed pentobarbital exposure in six turkey vultures in San Rafael in 2014, but the source of the exposure remains unknown. Those birds were taken to the wildlife hospital operated by the nonprofit WildCare in San Rafael. WildCare is a CDFW-approved wildlife rehabilitator.

Wildlife officials are concerned that the July 2015 admission of an additional pentobarbital-poisoned vulture to WildCare indicates that more wildlife are at risk.

Pentobarbital is a drug used by veterinarians to euthanize companion animals, livestock and horses. If the remains of animals euthanized with pentobarbital are not properly disposed of after death, scavenging wildlife – such as turkey vultures and eagles – can be poisoned. Veterinarians and animal owners are responsible for disposing of animal remains properly by legal methods such as cremation or deep burial.

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Turkey vultures are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and California Fish and Game Code. Euthanized remains that are not disposed-of properly are a danger to all scavenging wildlife.

CDFW asks members of the veterinary and livestock communities to share this information with colleagues, to prevent additional poisoning. WildCare also asks the public to pay attention to grounded turkey vultures and other raptors and scavengers.

Pentobarbital-poisoned birds appear to be dead. They have no reflex response and breathing can barely be detected. The birds appear intact, without wounds or obvious trauma. Anyone finding a comatose vulture should call WildCare’s 24-hour Hotline at (415) 456-SAVE (7283) immediately.  Anyone with information about possible sources of pentobarbital-contaminated animals should contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at (916) 358-2954.

Toxicological analysis was performed by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory in Davis.

BOLO for BTPI

Be on the look out for band-tailed pigeons! Reports this month indicate band-tailed pigeons, California’s only native pigeon, are utilizing areas where they haven’t been in years. Observers have reported flocks of 50 to 100 birds in locations where pigeons haven’t been seen in at least 15 to 20 years. These seemingly erratic movements are directly tied to available food resources. During the winter, band-tailed pigeons feed primarily on acorns. They are one of the few species that actually swallow acorns whole!

Adult band-tailed pigeon showing the characteristic white crescent and iridescent greenish-bronze patch of feathers on the hindneck. Photo by Gary Kramer, 2008.

Adult band-tailed pigeon showing the characteristic white crescent and iridescent greenish-bronze patch of feathers on the hind-neck. Photo by Gary Kramer, 2008.

Acorns on a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) in Monterey County, a favoriate wintertime food of band-tailed pigeons. Photo by Krysta Rogers, 2011.

Acorns on a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), a favorite wintertime food of band-tailed pigeons. Photo by Krysta Rogers, 2011.

Acorn productivity fluctuates among oak species and between years. In some years, oaks may produce large quantities of acorns, in other years acorn production can be spotty. If acorns are not available, pigeons will rely on other food items such as madrone berries or pine nuts. However, the availability of all these plant foods are dependent upon weather conditions including temperature and the timing of rain, which leads to changeable food resources. Band-tailed pigeons must be adaptable to these variable conditions and seek out food resources across the landscape.

The observations of pigeons using “non-traditional” locations this winter may possibly be influenced by recent drought conditions. In Sacramento County, acorn productivity this season was very high and, in fact, bird watchers reported seeing flocks of band-tailed pigeons along the American River during fall migration. In contrast, a recent trip to the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County, a location known to be especially reliable for both acorns and band-tailed pigeons, revealed neither acorns nor band-tailed pigeons this winter! Instead, pigeons were observed at lower elevations where abundant food was available.

Flock of band-tailed pigeons in oak tree in Santa Clara County. Photo by Krysta Rogers, 2014.

Flock of band-tailed pigeons in oak tree in Santa Clara County. Photo by Krysta Rogers, 2014.

Also likely related to drought, was the increased incidence of Trichomonosis in band-tailed pigeons this summer. Trichomonosis is a disease caused by a single-celled microscopic protozoan parasite, Trichomonas gallinae.  The parasite lives in the mouth and throat of infected birds, causing caseous (“cheese-like”) lesions to develop in the birds’ mouth or esophagus. The lesions eventually block the passage of food, causing the bird to become weak and emaciated. Infected birds die from starvation, or suffocation if the lesions block the airway.

An adult band-tailed pigeon showing signs of infection with Trichomonas parasites. Notice the drooped wings, ruffled feathers, and open-mouth breathing. Photo by Krysta Rogers, 2012.

An adult band-tailed pigeon showing signs of infection with Trichomonas parasites. Notice the drooped wings, ruffled feathers, and open-mouth breathing. Photo by Krysta Rogers, 2012.

Band-tailed pigeons are highly susceptible to infection with Trichomonas gallinae. Traditionally, large-scale die-offs occur during the winter months, in some years. However, this year the Wildlife Investigations Lab  received reports of increased mortality of band-tailed pigeons in several locations along the central California coast between May and August. Drought conditions likely resulted in increased contact between individual birds at limited food or watering sites, resulting in rapid spread of disease. This increased mortality of band-tailed pigeons is concerning because the band-tailed pigeon population has been declining for the past 40 years. Die-offs due to Trichomonosis can remove hundreds to thousands of pigeons from the population in a relatively short period of time.

This winter, be on the look out for band-tailed pigeons in your area. If you see pigeons, enjoy the spectacle, it may not occur at that location for another 20 years! And if you happen to observe pigeons that appear sick, such as showing signs of weakness, labored breathing, breathing with their bill open, drooling, reluctance to fly when approached, or are dead, you can help by reporting the mortality to the Wildlife Investigations Lab.

If you have any questions, or would like to report sick or dead band-tailed pigeons, contact Krysta Rogers at 916-358-1662.