Dozens of sick and dying magpies at Australia's Northern beaches as mystery illness strikes

THEY are best known for swooping and terrorising pedestrians but now it is the predatory magpies (Cracticus tibicen) who are fighting for their lives. A mystery illness has struck down record numbers of the black-and-white birds this year and puzzled wildlife officers are desperately trying to work out what is grounding the winged warriors. Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) volunteers have reported seeing dozens of sick and dying magpies on the northern beaches in recent days. While juvenile magpies often suffer from gapeworm, which burrow into the mouth and throat, they can be cured with antibiotics. But the cause of the recent spate of deaths ­remains a mystery. Zoologist Professor Gisela Kaplan said one theory was a bacteria in the soil that has flourished because of weather conditions — but this is yet to be proved. “It seems to be very localised and it does seem to be bad,” Prof Kaplan, a WIRES volunteer, said yesterday. WIRES took one very sick magpie to the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga Zoo late last week but it died.

There were hopes tests would shed some light on the plight of the birds but it emerged the magpie had a pre-existing condition rather than a parasitic infection, leaving WIRES none the wiser as to the cause of the spate of deaths.

Prof Kaplan said magpie numbers were already in decline before the mystery illness struck. “It’s a real worry because these are the most iconic birds in Australia,” she said.
Source: Herald Sun, 25 October 2016…