After bouncing around the world for the past decade, a deadly form of avian flu has arrived in California. Known as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Eurasian strain H5N1, or HPAI, the disease appears to be more concentrated and more deadly in certain species of wild birds, including eagles, vultures, geese, owls, hawks and corvids.
Two Canada geese and an American white pelican were discovered to have the disease on July 15 at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.
Songbirds and hummingbirds appear to be less susceptible to contracting and spreading the illness, and while some groups are asking backyard birders to bring in their feeders and empty birdbaths, others, including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, say those steps aren’t necessary yet. They ask us to keep a close eye on feeders and water sources, cleaning them thoroughly at least once a week.
If you find sick or dead birds, take the feeders down immediately and report the findings to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s mortality website, wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Health/Monitoring/Mortality-Report.
Bird rehabilitators are taking action to protect their existing patients. International Bird Rescue has outfitted its workers with personal protective equipment, and are screening new birds for the illness before putting them in with existing populations.
While HPAI is highly contagious among birds, humans are not at risk. Experts warn, however, that the disease could be around for a long while, so keep your feeders disinfected, which also will help with other forms of avian diseases including salmonella, avian pox and mycoplasma.
DEAR JOAN: I went out to water my hanging begonia plant and found an adult mourning dove sitting right in the middle of it.
No matter what time of day or night I check it, the dove is still there.
I watered it from the side today, and the dove flew away. It returned just a few minutes later.
I don’t want to disturb the bird, if it might be nesting. Should I just let the plant die?
Pat, Elverson, Pennsylvania
DEAR PAT: It doesn’t have to be the bird or the begonia.
It would appear the dove is nesting — birds don’t normally sit in one place for long periods, unless they are incubating eggs. And it’s likely you’re seeing both the male and the female taking turns sitting on the nest.
If you’re careful with your watering, you can likely continue to water the begonia, but you might want to put it on water rations to minimize the number of visits. Some people switch to ice cubes, which allows you to sprinkle a handful in the pot and let this hot weather take care of the watering.
The eggs take about two weeks to hatch, and then the chicks will remain in the nest for another two weeks, give or take a day. Your begonias might suffer, but they should be OK.
Mourning doves have multiple broods, so once the chicks have left the nest, you might want to take down the pot and put an empty pot in its place in case the doves come back for another go.
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