(Reuters) - California wildlife authorities are asking residents to take down bird baths and feeders if they spot sick or dead birds in their yards as experts closely monitor a disease afflicting the state's only native pigeon species.
Increased mortality rates have been reported since mid-December among California's band-tailed pigeons, which are seen in flocks up to 200-strong during the winter in coastal areas from the San Francisco Bay Area south into Santa Barbara County and in the San Bernardino Mountains.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) blames the deaths on Avian Trichomonosis, a disease caused by a single-celled microscopic protozoan parasite transmitted to the band-tailed pigeons by non-native rock pigeons, also known as city pigeons, which were introduced to North America from Europe.
CDFW environmental scientist Krysta Rogers said on Wednesday that the department's Wildlife Investigations Laboratory wants members of the public to be on the lookout for band-tailed pigeons this winter and go online to report any sick or dead bird species they see.
"If residents observe sick or dead birds in their yard, they can minimize disease transmission by removing artificial sources of food and water, such as bird feeders, bird baths, and fountains," Rogers said.
The parasite, which only infects birds, lives in the mouth and throat of infected pigeons and causes lesions in the mouth or esophagus that eventually block the passage of food. Infected birds finally die from starvation or suffocation.
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Editing by Sandra Maler)