Caution urged in encounters with sick birds of prey

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COLUMBUS – Reports of an unusually high number of sick or dying birds of prey such as hawks and owls across the state have prompted the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to warn anyone who might encounter these animals in the wild to avoid handling them.

“Because these birds have strong, sharp talons and beaks, they can inflict serious injuries to people not experienced in handling them, ” said Pat Ruble, wildlife administrator.

“If people find a dead or injured raptor, we are advising them to leave it alone.”

Anyone finding a sick or dead raptor can report the discovery to a local raptor rehabilitation center or through the department’s Web site at www.ohiodnr.com. A statewide list of raptor rehab centers is available on the site.

Dying raptors. Between 100 and 150 sick and dying raptors – mostly owls and hawks – have been reported statewide within the past several days.

Initial testing has been completed on several of the birds and some have tested positive for West Nile virus.

The National Wildlife Center in Madison, Wis., is currently testing some of the birds to determine the actual cause of death.

Many species of birds can carry West Nile virus without showing any symptoms, and West Nile virus is not necessarily fatal to all birds.

According to the state department of health, people cannot contract West Nile virus from birds. The disease can only be transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

No threat. If the birds’ deaths are attributed to West Nile virus, it would not represent any additional threat to people.

“But, at this point, we don’t know what is killing the birds, and that’s another reason for people to not handle them,” said Ruble.

The division of wildlife indicated there is no need for additional collection of dead or dying hawks and owls, and confirmed enough of the birds have been collected to allow for accurate testing.

The agency will distribute further information when testing has been completed.

The department of health recommends that dead birds should only be handled with rubber gloves.

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