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Water bird survey starts at Thames

24 August 2004

Water bird survey starts at Thames

A sampling programme for water birds in the Firth of Thames got underway over the weekend.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), Massey University’s Epicentre, the Department of Conservation, Ministry of Health and the Ornithological Society of New Zealand are involved in the survey as part of the development of a wildlife disease surveillance strategy for New Zealand.

Sampling of birds started on Friday 20 August 2004 and will run until March 2005. It has two main purposes: to evaluate a non-invasive technique for taking faecal samples from birds; and to determine the status of avian influenza viruses in endemic and migratory water birds, MAF Indigenous Flora and Fauna Team Manager Christine Reed said today.

“Migratory birds have been identified as a potential risk pathway, albeit very low risk, for diseases like avian influenza to enter New Zealand. This survey will determine whether influenza viruses are present in waterbirds in the Firth of Thames area. This area is a preferred location for migratory birds such as the Red Knots, Turnstones and Bar-tailed Godwits, which will start arriving from their Northern Hemisphere breeding grounds from September to December,” Christine Reed said.

“The first part of the work involves sampling endemic wading birds, such as the Wrybill, and water birds prior to this season’s arrival of migratory birds. Once the visitors arrive they will also be sampled. The final part of the survey involves a re-sampling of the endemic bird species a few months later to determine if there are any new viruses in the population.

“Traditionally samples are collected by using a swab. This is an invasive technique that involves catching the birds to be sampled. The birds are released after testing and the process does not harm them. For the purposes of this survey we plan to capture the birds and use swabs to obtain samples but will also be investigating the practicalities of using non-invasive techniques, such as collecting faeces from feeding areas and comparing these results with swab samples.

The experience gained will form a useful part of MAF’s future wildlife disease surveillance strategy,” Christine Reed said.


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