Research: Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation

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Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation

Our work with avian wildlife in both the rehab and educational settings puts us in the unique position to study wild populations throughout the state. Our experience allows us to create unique projects that increase our understanding of avian species. We freely share our knowledge with anyone who may be interested and collaborate with other organizations in their avian studies. Details of our current projects can be found below.

The 2022 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak has had an unprecedented effect on wild birds in North America. While songbirds are generally considered to be low risk in regards to infection or being carriers, data is limited about HPAI in songbirds. The Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation is turning this difficult situation into a unique opportunity to try to learn more about HPAI prevalence in songbirds. Staff have collected swabs from patients accepted during this outbreak for genetic analysis to learn more about whether HPAI is affecting songbirds in the region. 167 samples were taken from doves, woodpeckers, and various songbird species.

2023 HPAI Report
Bren Lundborg, Lead Wildlife Keeper
Prevalence of HPAI in passerines, woodpeckers and doves presented to the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation during the 2022 HPAI H5N1 epizootic

In 2020 VINS conducted a survey of blood parasites affecting Vermont birds. There are three genera of parasites that commonly occur in birds in the Northeast: Plasmodium, Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon. All are capable of causing morbidity and mortality, and we treat a number of birds for infections with these parasites each year.

The purpose of the study is to help establish the frequency of infections and the species affected in Vermont. All three parasites are spread by insect vectors such as mosquitoes, so climate change is expected to change the range of these parasites as their vector and host species move as well.

Of particular interest is Plasmodium which causes avian malaria, and was first found causing death in Common Loons in the Northeast in 2017. Several additional parasite genera were also found, including Trypanosoma, Microfilaria and Atoxoplasma.

Over 440 samples were collected throughout the study period, and have been analyzed for blood parasites. The study is almost complete and a report will be coming soon. This is the first study in Vermont to look at such a wide variety of birds.

In 2023, Research Staff will continue this project by taking samples from wild caught Broad-winged Hawks to compare with birds brought into rehabilitation.

In coordination with the VINS research team, and Dr. Samuel Byrne of Middlebury college, the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation has started collecting feather and blood samples to explore environmental mercury exposure in birds presented to the clinic for care.

VINS is collecting blood samples from loons for genetic testing to look for Plasmodium. This is part of a larger Northeastern loon population monitoring effort involving biologists, researchers, veterinarians and others from organizations including VCE, Tufts, UNH, the Smithsonian Conservation Institute and New Hampshire Loon Preservation Committee (LPC). VINS is also involved in a study specifically focusing on loon mortalities related to avian malaria.

We will also be helping Eric Hanson, the loon biologist from VCE, with performing necropsies and sample collecting on loons that were found deceased in the wild this summer, along with NH LPC. We will also be submitting samples from other species of birds that carry Plasmodium to help look for the specific lineages of parasites that are causing disease in loons.