Bird blood parasites

Avian haematozoa

Bird blood parasites (avian haematozoa) can cause disease and death of their hosts. It is likely that all species within the genera Haemoproteus, Plasmodium and Leucocytozoon are harmful to a greater or lesser degree, depending the range of hosts they can infect, environmental stress, age, nutrition and the availability of suitable insects (vectors) to transmit disease between birds.

Bird red blood cells infected with Haemoproteus Bird red blood cells infected with Haemoproteus.

Australia's birds have evolved in relative isolation since the breakup of the southern supercontinent of Gondwana. Australia is now home to more than 700 species of birds, with many groups that are dominant in this country but rare elsewhere (for example parrots, cockatoos, honeyeaters, bowerbirds and kingfishers). Other species migrate seasonally between Australia and northern continents.

Despite the unique nature of our bird fauna and although there is a significant public recreational interest in birds, relatively little is known about their parasitic diseases. In Australia, knowledge of these parasites has been restricted to a few research studies with most reports generally relating to incidental findings of blood parasites. Sampling blood from a Common Noddy at Heron Island.Sampling blood from a Common Noddy at Heron Island.

Research at the Queensland Museum has found that about 10% of birds in southeast Queensland were infected with these parasites but the impacts of such an infection are more difficult to assess. In our built-up areas birds often die from car-strike or from interactions with our pet cats and dogs. It is suspected that parasite-infected birds are more susceptible to meeting such an end even though the actual cause of death may not obviously have been due to the parasitic infection.

International Reference Centre for Avian Haematozoa (IRCAH) collection

In 1995, the Queensland Museum became home to the IRCAH (International Reference Centre for Avian Haematozoa). This collection comprises over 60,000 specimens of bird blood parasites in stained, thin blood smears on glass microscope slides. These include type and voucher specimens from about 45,000 infected birds. The IRCAH is a significant world resource containing samples from over 4,000 species of birds, representing about 150 bird families, collected from 63 countries from all over the globe.

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