BTO provides grim update on bird flu spread


The recent spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI; bird flu) among threatened gulls and terns is gathering pace, says the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

The BTO has suggested that at least 10,000 Black-headed Gulls, amounting to some 4% of the total UK population, have died since the end of March – but the real figure could be significantly higher.

Furthermore, many hundreds of Common Terns have also perished, with signs of severe losses for this species still to come.

Many hundreds of Common Terns have succumbed to avian influenza already this summer, with more expected to follow (Peter Coffey / BTO)

BTO researchers want members of the public to help track the spread of bird flu by reporting all dead birds through both the BirdTrack app and to DEFRA. In Northern Ireland, dead birds should be reported both through BirdTrack and DAERA.

Black-headed Gull mortalities from suspected HPAI have more than doubled in the past month, with reports indicating that the new wave has spread across England and into Northern Ireland. Since the beginning of June, more than 200 Black-headed Gulls and a number of Common Terns are thought to have died from bird flu at RSPB Window on Wildlife at Belfast harbour. The reserve has been temporarily closed to the public.

A shocking 40% of the 800 breeding Common Terns at Shotton Steelworks in North Wales are thought to have died from bird flu, along with half of the 400 that breed at nearby Seaforth Nature Reserve having also perished. Both Black-headed Gull and Common Tern feature on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Members of the public are reminded not to touch dead or sick birds and to keep dogs on leads to prevent the further spread of disease.

Professor James Pearce-Higgins, BTO Director of Science, said: "The spread of avian influenza through these inland breeding colonies of Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns is continuing. It represents the next phase of the battle against this virus that devastated so many of our coastal and offshore seabird colonies last year. We are only able to track the spread of avian influenza with the help of birdwatchers who submit their sightings to BirdTrack and DEFRA/DAERA, supporting the efforts of site managers and reserve wardens."

Dawn Balmer, BTO Head of Surveys, added: "Thank you to everyone who has submitted records of dead birds to BirdTrack which allows us to monitor the spread of avian influenza, and also to DEFRA/DAERA, which may collect the birds for testing. Black-headed Gulls breeding at upland reservoirs appear to be badly affected at the moment, so we urge birders to check out breeding sites they may know of and report any deaths."