April 26, 2018
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Survival of fittest strengthens species


Russ Lake of Brewer dropped in at the Fields Pond Audubon Center with photos of two mourning doves on his lawn. Something was definitely wrong with those birds. Each had a bulbous, somewhat shiny growth on its bill.

Each growth looked look like a tiny balloon, the size of a pea. These growths were on the top of each bill, and looked as though they emanated from the cere, the soft part of doves and pigeons where the nostrils come out. I checked the mourning doves at our feeder at Fields Pond, and they didn’t have any such thing on their bills.

When I went home, to my dismay, two mourning doves on my lawn had the same growths on their bills.

I Googled mourning dove diseases and thought, maybe they have trichomoniasis. Maine Audubon’s volunteer Stella Walsh called Fields Pond Audubon Center to set me straight.

The disease was avian pox. Stella had seen that disease in birds while she was banding birds on Appledore Island last summer. Additionally, a number of concerned bird-watchers in the Portland vicinity had called them about those growths on mourning doves.

So, look carefully at any mourning dove you see. And what if you see one with avian pox?

You can keep your feeders as clean as possible. If you have a bird with that disease, you should clean bird feeders with a weak solution of bleach and water. And stop feeding on the ground for a few weeks.

You can do little for a wild bird that has a disease. Either it will get well, or it will die. That’s nature’s way — survival of the fittest. Nature’s way is rough on the individual, but strengthens the species.

Sometimes, feeders may help birds survive a cold winter, but feeders also can spread diseases among birds if we’re not careful.

All Web sites about bird diseases that I found said there is no evidence that the avian pox virus can infect humans. They say there is no evidence that avian pox is a public health concern.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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