Healthy birds to die in attempt to solve mystery

To: "'Birding-aus'" <>
Subject: Healthy birds to die in attempt to solve mystery
From: "Alastair Smith" <>
Date: Sat, 3 Feb 2007 20:41:33 +1100
>From today's Australian

Amanda O'Brien

February 02, 2007

WILDLIFE officials will kill 15 healthy birds in a bid to discover why
thousands of native birds dropped dead from the sky at Esperance, on Western
Australia's south coast.

While some birds are returning to the area almost two months after the
mysterious deaths sparked worldwide scientific attention, authorities are no
closer to knowing what caused the phenomenon. 

The 15 healthy birds will be shot or trapped under special licence to
provide a "control" sample to check background levels of toxins. These will
be compared to levels in the birds that died. 

The Department of Environment and Conservation admitted yesterday that
autopsies on some of the dead birds last month had not provided answers. 

An estimated 4000 birds fell from the sky in December and January,
convulsing and vomiting as they died on people's lawns. And despite recent
sightings of some affected species, including honeyeaters, silvereyes and
wattlebirds, experts say it could be years before the bird population is
back to full strength. 

Local resident Michelle Crisp, who raised the alarm in December after
finding dozens of dead birds on her property one morning, said she was
thrilled to see the birds returning. 

"We're getting some around the bird bath and in the trees but it's probably
still less than a third of what we used to have," she said. "The silvereyes
were the first back but I've also seen one or two new holland honeyeaters
this week. But we used to get huge mobs of them." 

DEC nature protection branch manager David Mell said disease-causing bird
viruses and bacteria had been ruled out but toxicological testing would have
to continue. Tests for heavy metals and pesticides had so far been
inconclusive. He hoped the testing of control birds from outside the
affected area would help narrow down a cause of death. 

Curator of ornithology at the Western Australian Museum Ron Johnstone said
fully repopulating the area could take years, depending on whether whole
flocks had been wiped out. 

Esperance DEC district conservation co-ordinator Mike Fitzgerald said the
occasional dead bird was still being handed in but there was no evidence
they were related to the main deaths.



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