Rare Island Jaybirds Vaccinated Against West Nile

Photo Credit: Nature Conservancy/Elizabeth Donadio

Dead crows and bluejays are one thing. Scientists say a much less common bird—the island scrub jay—could be wiped out by West Nile virus. The solution? To vaccinate hundreds of the birds, which live exclusively on Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of Santa Barbara.Dead birds are a sign of West Nile, which can be transferred by mosquitoes from birds to humans and make us sick, or in rare cases, cause death. U.S. health departments often remind residents to report dead crows and bluejays for that reason. But a dead island scrub jay would be a special cause for alarm. The scrub jay is the only endemic island bird in North America, and there are only about 3,000 of them.

On the 96-square-mile island, biologists are trapping island scrub jays in wire mesh baskets, using peanuts as bait, then using a needle to vaccinate the birds against West Nile, the LA Times reports.

The vaccine is produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plan is to vaccinate 250 scrub jays by next spring, to form a disease-resistant population and ensure the species' survival. That's about 8 percent of the total island population.

The effort is being coordinated by The Nature Conservancy, which owns about three-quarters of the island.

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Tags: Birds | California | Diseases