Ducks and other waterbirds on the River Torrens will be under close scrutiny for the next 18 months as University of Adelaide researchers investigate what ‘bird flu’ or avian influenza viruses they may be carrying.
‘Duckwatch’ starts along the River Torrens this month. The researchers will be monitoring and banding ducks and other waterbirds fortnightly to measure the exposure of the wild birds to various forms of avian influenza.
“Avian influenza or bird flu occurs naturally in many types of birds especially ducks but we know very little about it in South Australia’s wild waterbirds,” says Dr Toni Dalziel, a wildlife veterinarian and PhD student in the University’s School of Biological Sciences. “Like human flu, there are many different strains of avian influenza which mutate to form new strains.”
“We want to discover what strains the waterbirds are carrying, determine how often a new one shows up and measure changes over time in the number of birds exposed to the different viruses. We will also be assessing the response of the birds’ immune systems to any new versions of the virus.”
Dr Dalziel is seeking volunteers from the local community to support her research by acting as ‘duck watchers’ who will support the research by providing information about the project to the general public and monitoring the field work along the Torrens in the early mornings.
The influenza virus which is commonly found in wild birds is thought to be the origin of the more serious strain of avian influenza or ‘bird flu’ which has caused significant disease in chickens in other parts of the world. The type of avian influenza people are most familiar with is the H5N1 strain which has never been found in Australia.
“Avian influenza is an emerging disease with a potentially large impact. This research will help us better understand how the virus interacts with the environment and under different conditions in Australia,” says Dr Dalziel.
Dr Dalziel is a member of the Invasion Ecology Group within the School of Biological Sciences and is supervised by Associate Professor Phill Cassey and Research Fellow Dr Rebecca Boulton. The waterbirds will only be handled by qualified wildlife veterinarians and researchers, and banding for identification purposes done by an approved A-class bander.
Members of the public interested in supporting Duckwatch as volunteer duck watchers can see more information and register at ua.edu.au/duckwatch.
More information about biosecurity can be found at the Environment Institute website.