< > Glossary & References / Book List / B36 Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases / Text Sections:
(LARGE PAGE - wait to load, then scroll down)

image2.gif (1889 bytes)Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases
Click here for CONTENTS Page
For contact details see Title Page

Chapter 51 - Miscellaneous Diseases

Authors: Milton Friend and Nancy J. Thomas.

Information available:

This concluding chapter is intended to further inform the reader of the broad spectrum of causes affecting the health of wild birds by illustrating a variety of disease conditions that are not described elsewhere in this Manual. The information in this chapter is not intended to represent a comprehensive description of other causes for ill-health and death in wild birds. Instead, examples are provided of some less commonly reported conditions that, in some instances, illustrate larger health issues. Too little is known about these conditions to currently assess their biological significance as mortality factors in wild birds.

Return to top of page

Disease in Hatchlings and Young

Much of what is known about disease in free-ranging wild birds is the result of observations and investigations of fully grown birds. Nevertheless, the knowledge gained from domestic poultry and captive-reared wild birds has often demonstrated great disease impacts for young birds. Loss of young can have significant impacts on population levels (see Trichostrongylidosis in Chapter 35); therefore, special vigilance is needed to prevent the introduction of disease into free-ranging populations that have the potential for high mortality of young.

Duck hepatitis is an example of a disease of domestic ducks that could cause mortality of young free-ranging birds if it were to spread to free-ranging populations (Figs. 51.1– Figs. 51.3). This highly fatal, rapidly spreading viral disease is found worldwide and is economically important to all duck-raising operations because of the high potential of mortality if it is not controlled. Young pheasants, goslings, and young guinea fowl have all suffered high mortality following experimental infection with duck hepatitis virus, thereby illustrating a greater host range than waterfowl. Mallard ducklings are also killed by this virus, and adult mallards have been reported to serve as mechanical or noninfected transport hosts for the movement of duck hepatitis virus between commercial duck-raising operations. Clinical signs and mortality in mallards have been confined to ducklings less than 3-weeks old. However, birds that recovered from infection have been reported to shed the virus in their feces for up to 8 weeks postinfection.

Return to top of page

Plastic Debris

Improper disposal of several types of products made from plastic causes problems for birds. Some of these problems can result in mortality. They can frequently be reduced by educating people about the problems and by other means (Figs. 51.4–Figs. 51.6).

Figure 51.1
Click Photo for full-page viewTypical terminal position of ducklings that die from duck hepatitis. This posture is referred to as opisthotonos, and it is characterized by the body being somewhat bowed forward with the head and bottom of the feet bent backward.


Figure 51.2
Click Photo for full-page viewTypical liver lesions of mallard ducklings that died from duck hepatitis. Note the color change and enlargement of the two infected livers (A and B) compared with the liver from an uninfected duckling at the same age (C). The principal lesions, in addition to the greatly enlarged liver, are hemorrhages over varying amounts of the surface area. The more discrete areas of hemorrhage are referred to as petechia (for the very small isolated areas) or punctate (dotlike), and the broader areas of hemorrhage as ecchymotic.


Figure 51.3
Click Photo for full-page viewMallard duckling infected with duck hepatitis. The livers of infected birds generally become so swollen that they fill much of the bird's abdominal cavity.


Figure 51.4
Click Photo for full-page view(A) Improperly discarded fishing line carried to the top of this tree by a double-crested cormorant became a "hangman's noose" and strangled the bird in this photograph. The line tangled around the tree top and it also looped around the bird's neck when it attempted to fly from it's perch above a small urban lake. Click Photo for full-page view(B) Discarded fishing line wrapped around the bill of this white pelican would have resulted in starvation had the bird not been captured and the line removed. Note also the constricted areas of the pouch caused by the line.


Figure 51.5
Click Photo for full-page viewA Canada goose with a plastic 6-pack ring entangled around it's neck (arrow). Birds accidentally acquire these rings when they place their heads through them as they feed on the ground.


Figure 51.6
Click Photo for full-page viewThese discarded plastic materials were found in the stomach of an albatross chick. Items such as these are ingested as food by adult birds when they feed at sea and reach the chick when the adult regurgitates food to feed it's young. Fortunately, most debris of this type is voided by the chicks without causing them harm. However, birds can suffer intestinal blockages and other ill effects.


Figure 51.7
Click Photo for full-page viewLight colored muscle of leg (arrow) represents capture myopathy in a sandhill crane.


Figure 51.8
Click Photo for full-page viewLight colored area in breast muscle (arrow) of a peregrine falcon with capture myopathy.


Figure 51.9
Click Photo for full-page viewTumors in breast muscle of a Canada goose.

Return to top of page

Disease Due To Handling

Improper judgments and procedures by humans while they pursue, handle, and transport wild animals, including birds, during wildlife management activities can induce capture myopathy (Figs. 51.7–Fig. 51.8). More descriptive names include over-straining disease, transport myopathy, exertional myopathy, muscle necrosis, white muscle disease, and stress myopathy. These names convey that improper handling or stress can cause a bird to overexert and result in stress-related injury to its muscles. Tissue damage is a result of complex physiological processes, not physical trauma such as bruising from impact. Mortality has been reported in a wide variety of bird species including flamingos, cranes, waterfowl, raptors, gulls, wild turkey, and other species. This disease of overexertion results in severe damage to striated muscles including the heart. Birds may die hours or even several days after they have been released, thereby leaving their human captors and handlers unaware of the damage that was done. The potential for inducing this disease should be carefully considered during the planning phases of wildlife capture, handling, and transportation, and measures should be taken to minimize risks. Warm environmental temperatures are often a risk factor as are the duration of pursuit, the method and duration of restraint, placement of birds in unfamiliar surroundings, and noise associated with human activities. Situations that have induced capture myopathy in birds include trapping and handling operations involving drop nets and rocket nets; drive-trapping, handling, and translocation of flightless birds; and handling birds so that marking devices, including radio transmitters, can be placed on them. All of these needed activities can be done safely if proper consideration is given to capture myopathy and the steps that can be taken to avoid inducing this disease.

Return to top of page


Neoplasms or tumors are infrequent findings in free-ranging wild birds, but they are found (Figs. 51.9–Figs. 51.12). Tumors are formed by the abnormal progressive multiplication of cells into uncontrolled (by the body) new tissue that appears as various growths within tissues and organs. These growths may be noninvasive or benign, or they may spread to other tissues and parts of the body and be malignant. Tumors result from multiple causes. Virus-induced tumors, such as the herpesvirus that causes an important infectious poultry disease known as Marek’s disease, are transmissible. Tumors formed due to other than infectious agents have been reported from all major body systems of birds, the reproductive, digestive, respiratory, nervous, and endocrine systems, in addition to the skin surfaces.

Less than 1 percent of the wild birds for which postmortem examinations were done at the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) over a span of more than 20 years (1975–1998) had tumors. These findings are consistent with those of other disease diagnostic laboratories that process large numbers of free-ranging wildlife. A notable exception at the NWHC has been a high prevalence of tumors in Mississippi sandhill cranes received from the wild (Figs. 51.11 and Figs.51.12). The cause(s) of the tumors in this endangered species remains undetermined.

Return to top of page


Many wild birds are injured and killed each year from impacts with buildings, wires, and other products of the human environment (Figs. 51.13, and Figs. 51.14). Birds that have large wing spans, such as cranes and eagles, are among those commonly found with fractured wings and other injuries from collisions with power lines and wire fences. Road kills of raptors that feed on carrion are common. Whenever it is feasible, bird flight patterns and bird use of local habitat should be considered in the routing of power transmission lines, wind power generation units, and roads. Protective measures against bird strikes should be employed when they are warranted if less hazardous alternative routings cannot be accomplished. Monitoring for road kills of birds and observations of birds feeding on carcasses can indicate food shortages for species such as eagles and can be mitigated by establishing short-term feeding stations that move the birds from the roadways to safer locations during the period of food scarcity.

Figure 51.10
Click Photo for full-page viewTumor on the leg of a ruffed grouse.


Figure 51.11
Click Photo for full-page viewTumor attached to the kidneys of a Mississippi sandhill crane.


Figure 51.12
Click Photo for full-page viewA malignant tumor covering the heart (top arrow) and lungs (bottom arrow) of a Mississippi sandhill crane.

Return to top of page


Wild birds are subject to major direct losses from weather. Waterfowl and other species have been frozen to the ice by their feet and feathers (Fig. 51.15), and strong winds associated with hurricanes have filled coastal beaches with large numbers of birds with fractured wings. Heavy snows and storms that coat vegetation with a thick layer of ice deprive wild birds and other wildlife of access to food and can result in starvation (Fig. 51.16). Numerous other weather-related situations also affect bird health.

Malnutrition resulting in starvation is but one aspect of nutritional diseases that may affect birds. Nutritional diseases are a complex subject area that is beyond the scope of this Manual, and they are mentioned only to make the reader aware of them. Nutritional diseases involve excess intake as well as deficiencies. Changes in bird diets associated with landscape changes due to agriculture can contribute to nutritional diseases. For example, excesses of dietary protein and vitamin deficiency may occur due to extensive feeding on agricultural grains rather than natural food sources. Visceral gout may result (Fig. 51.17). Under experimental conditions, substances that are toxic to the kidneys (nephrotoxic agents) and diets deficient in Vitamin A and high in calcium have caused avian gout.

Wild birds also drown. Drowning may be an outcome of extreme weather conditions that aquatic birds are sometimes subject to; exhaustion of passerines during migration, which causes them to drop into water bodies that they may be traversing at the time; and as a result of other factors, such as the feathers of aquatic birds becoming waterlogged from oil contamination or nonfunctioning preen glands that prevent birds from "waterproofing" their feathers.

Various deformities due to a variety of causes are also seen in wild birds (Fig. 51.18). Some deformities result from exposure to excess levels of selenium; others may result from exposure to synthetic compounds, nutritional disorders, or injury to tissues during early developmental stages of the bird; they may be of genetic origin; or result from other causes. Deformities are not commonly observed because birds that are afflicted with such conditions are likely to be more vulnerable to factors that reduce their chance for survival. Therefore, clusters of observations of deformities should be viewed as an indication of a larger problem and warrant investigation to determine the underlying cause.

Figure 51.13
Click Photo for full-page viewCollision with fences, power lines, and other structures is a significant mortality factor for birds. This whooping crane died after striking a fence.


Figure 51.14
Click Photo for full-page viewTrauma from collision often results in massive internal hemorrhage.


Figure 51.15
Click Photo for full-page viewSevere weather can cause large losses of wildlife. These Canada geese became entrapped by ice when high winds accompanied by temperatures that rapidly dropped below freezing during a spring storm quickly turned this shallow wetland into a frozen body of water. The high winds prevented flight, and the water splashing over the birds froze them in place. Severe traumatic injuries resulted as the birds tried to free themselves from the ice.


Figure 51.16
Click Photo for full-page viewIce that coats vegetation may prevent access to food, resulting in starvation.


Figure 51.17
Click Photo for full-page viewDietary protein imbalances can cause visceral gout, exhibited by an accumulation of white, gritty deposits on surfaces of organs, such as the heart (arrow).


Figure 51.18
Click Photo for full-page viewVertebral column deformity (scoliosis) in a bald eagle.

Return to top of page

Supplementary Reading

  • Fairbrother, A., Locke, L.N., and Hoff, G.L., 1996, Noninfectious
    diseases of wildlife, (2d ed.): Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University
    Press, 219 p.
  • Wallach, J.D., and Cooper, J.E., 1982, Nutritional diseases of wild
    birds, in Hoff, G.L., and others, eds., Noninfectious diseases of
    wildlife: Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University Press, p. 113–126.

Return to top of page