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Scientists seek help studying bird virus

By Gilly Lloyd

Galah male © John Cooper

Galah male © John Cooper

ABC News reports that researchers at Charles Sturt University are inviting the Australian public to help with a new study into a virus that kills birds’ feathers, leaving them unable to fly.

The veterinary scientists have received a grant to research how species of parrots and cockatoos contract this virus which threatens endangered species in Australia and other countries.

Shane Raidal is Associate Professor in Veterinary Pathobiology at the university, and he’d like to hear from anyone who has seen birds in the wild with abnormal feathers.

“Any species of birds that have some weird feathers I’d be very keen to get those reports,” he said. “We’ve recently seen disease type situations in ravens, cassowaries, silver gulls even albatross, so that the more we look at the whole evolution of this virus family the more we’ll understand it.”

Beak and feather disease affects both common and endangered bird species in Australia, but, says Professor Raidal, it’s very common in species like Galahs and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.

“Many people may have seen cockatoos out in the wild or visiting their backyards that have no feathers and a lot of people mistakenly believe that they’re very, very old birds but in actual fact they’re less than 12 months of age,” he said. “They basically can’t fly because the virus kills the birds’ feathers and they end up being almost completely naked.”

It is hoped that this grant will give veterinary researchers at Charles Sturt University a new insight into the disease.

Professor Raidal says that the laboratory which he runs in Wagga Wagga is the only one in the country that is doing all the tests that are required to identify this infection in birds, and it gets samples from all over the world for diagnosis.  He points out that this condition isn’t limited to Australia, but it’s also a problem in New Zealand, Indonesia and anywhere else where there are native parrots, so the results will be of international significance.

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