SCIENTISTS have warned of a new strain of bird virus which targets great tits spreading north through Britain.
The new strain of avian pox, which causes warty, tumour-like growths particularly around the eyes and beak, has not yet been seen in the Borders.
Scientists say the virus is unlikely to have originated in Britain and more probably occurred through the arrival of an infected mosquito. And the RSPB and Zoological Society of London experts have tracked the disease from south-east England to central England and into Wales over the last five years.
Borders RSPB officer Mike Fraser said: “These things have the potential to spread countrywide and there is nothing to stop it getting up here. It will work its way through the population and the birds that survive will be the fittest.”
Of greater immediate concern, as Borders bird lovers gear up to feed feathered friends over the winter, is the known disease paratie trichomonosis.
“Birds foam at the beak and get fluffed up even though it may not be cold, and the disease is fatal which is why it is so important to keep bird feeders and baths clean. It’s like your own kitchen, it’s the same for the birds,” said Mr Fraser.
He advised those wanting to help to feed birds appropriate food regularly and keep feeders, bird tables and bird baths washed and disinfected every week.
Commercial bird food is best, but kitchen scraps such as brown bread and cooked rice could be given – as long as any uneaten scraps were cleared away – and apples stored now could be fed after current fruit and berries are used up.
Sightings by the public of birds with avian pox should be reported to the RSPB on 01767 693690.