Above: According to NABU, symptoms of the diseased birds include fluffed-up plumage and breathing difficulties. NABU currently advises residents in Germany to stop feeding or providing drinking troughs for birds to reduce the risk of transmission © Shutterstock.com/LA28


A MYSTERY ILLNESS that has affected about 35,000 birds in Germany has been identified as caused by the bacterium Suttonella ornithocola.

More than 11,000 cases of dead and sick birds, mostly blue tits, were reported to Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conversation Union (NABU) during the first two weeks of April. By April 28, NABU had received more than 17,000 reports, mostly from the west of Germany. Experts say the virus, which causes pneumonia in affected birds, has only been known since 1996 and was first described in Great Britain.

It is most commonly observed in blue tits, although other birds within the tit families – Paridae and Aegithalidae – are susceptible to infection.

Conservation groups and scientists in the UK are aware of the recent reports but said the risk to UK bird populations was currently extremely low.

“This disease predominantly affects blue tits which are largely sedentary birds and do not move far from where they fledged,” a RSPB spokesperson commented. “If this disease is not already present in the UK, transmission across countries from Germany to the UK will be slow.”

Earlier this month, NABU announced that the number of birds found dead per day in Germany was falling significantly. However, the public are still encouraged to report any cases. During the virus’s peak on April 10, almost 1,300 cases of dead tits were found; by the end of April under 200 suspected cases per day were reported.

“Past minor outbreaks of Suttonella ornithocola infections never lasted longer than the end of April,” according to NABU. Outside of Germany, blue tit deaths were reported in Luxembourg, Belgium and eastern France.

The latest update from NABU,  on May 18, noted about 150 reports of dead birds per day.

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