Re: Wader trapping and the bird flu threat

Subject: Re: Wader trapping and the bird flu threat
From: "Frank O'Connor" <>
Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 02:33:24 +0800

Bird flu is a serious topic that is being grossly distorted by the media. The last thing that we need is for birders to perpetuate the inaccuracies being spread in the ill informed media. Marilyn Davis's ill informed, inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims have been rebutted in the past, and you can search the birding-aus archives.

I strongly object to Marilyn's use of bird flu in the context of the study of migratory shorebirds. This is unnecessarily adding to the misinformation. I heard recently on the ABC radio in Perth comments by a presenter about migratory birds, the Macquarie Marshes, and perceived threats from bird flu. This was pure supposition by the presenter based on absolutely no knowledge or source, but it then gets quoted by others as showing that migratory waders are a threat to Australians.

I regularly get asked by people about bird flu, especially when they know that I will be participating in the study of migratory waders. They need to be told clearly and repeatedly that the threat from H5N1 will come from people, and not from migratory birds. They cannot be told often enough, as there are too many inaccurate reports being presented in the media based on imagination and not on facts.

Marilyn is right in saying that it is the wild birds which are at threat from people, rather than the other way around. However, wader banding is done to help protect these species. It is never a 'hobby' as she maliciously states. This is a serious fight to ensure that these birds and their vital habitats are preserved. If she had ever participated in the north west wader studies, then she would know the dedication, and concern that all participants have for the migratory waders. You don't pay to attend a three week wader banding expedition and work dawn to dusk as a hobby! She repeatedly tries to portray the participants as amateurs, which is grossly untrue. Sure, we don't get paid but that is the only sense of the word that we are amateurs. On the contrary we pay to participate. The expeditions are organised and executed very professionally.

The holding of caught birds in the handling cages does not increase the risk of disease transmission. If Marilyn had ever participated in an expedition and seen this done first hand, she would know that the density of birds in the holding cages is far less than the density of the birds roosting at high tide. Any disease transmission that might be possible, would be more likely to occur in the roosting flocks.

To suggest that a participant could spread bird flu by later attending a club meeting is absolute pure fiction, and shows the lengths that Marilyn has gone to try and build an extremely flimsy argument with no hard facts.

Marilyn is clearly unaware that on many of the North West Australia wader banding expeditions, there has been a local vet from AQIS who has taken blood samples to test for avian diseases. There has been nothing of significance found.

Let's get this in perspective. There have been next to no migratory waders anywhere in the world found with H5N1 avian influenza. If they were to be infected, then it is highly unlikely that they would survive the migration over water to reach Australia. It they did happen to survive, then it would be likely that they survived because they developed antibodies to the disease. Even if the bird has avian influenza, it is not highly contagious to people. And if a person did contract the disease, it has not proved to be highly contagious between people. The sampling of the birds for avian diseases is an essential way to monitor this. If migratory waders are a serious threat, then we would have found in the past that they were transmitting diseases such as Newcastle Disease. And I can assure Marilyn, that as a participant I am concerned about my own health, and that I would not be involved if there was a realistic threat to myself or to the birds.

So the next time that someone asks you about bird flu, reinforce to them that the migratory birds are likely to be the victims and that they are not the threat that the media tries to portray.

Frank O'Connor           Birding WA
Phone : (08) 9386 5694 Email :
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