Virus causing lorikeets to ‘drop out of the sky’ resurfaces in South-East Queensland


By Kathy Sundstrom and Rob Blackmore

Posted Fri 1 May 2020 at 3:26pmFriday 1 May 2020 at 3:26pm, updated Fri 1 May 2020 at 4:19pmFriday 1 May 2020 at 4:19pm

A lorikeet with its wings outstretched.
The syndrome leaves the birds unable to fly or walk properly.(ABC Open contributor Stu heath Photography)

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Experts don’t know what causes it or why, but a virus that spreads quickly in close contact is causing rainbow lorikeets to “drop out of the sky” across South-East Queensland.

Key points:

  • The syndrome leaves the bird with a clenched claw, meaning it cannot land and hold on to a branch
  • It has a similarity to coronavirus in that it spreads quickly when birds are in close contact
  • If you find a bird on the ground and it appears to be dead or injured, it’s still worth taking to a vet

Bird expert Darryl Jones from Griffith University said the condition, known as lorikeet paralysis syndrome or clenched-foot syndrome, was happening “really widely”.

“There are lots and lots of cases in Brisbane at the moment. I’m pretty much inundated by things,” Professor Jones said.

He said while it was not related to COVID-19, it had an important similarity in that it spread quickly when the birds were in close contact.

Lorikeets shown dead on the ground, beside numbers on paper.
Scientists are looking to learn more about lorikeet paralysis syndrome.(Supplied: Darryl Jones )

“It is a disease — it gets spread between animals, and the problem is [lorikeets] aren’t good at social distancing very much at all.”

The severity of the disease can vary between birds but it can lead to them dying “pretty horribly”.

“Some of the birds, because they can’t fly or walk properly, will fall out of the sky,” Professor Jones said.

“They have a clenched claw, so they can’t land and hold on to a branch: that’s the simple problem.

“They fall to the ground and starve to death or a predator gets them or ants get them.

“It’s a pretty horrible way to go.”

Various birds shown dead on the ground
Some of the lorikeets in south-east Queensland affected by the paralysis syndrome.(Supplied: Darryl Jones )

RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty said the rescue service had seen many cases of it.

“At any given time, we will have 30 lorikeets in [the wildlife hospital] because of it,” he said.

Professor Jones said experts did not know what was causing it, but it had been known to occur at different times in eastern Australia since the 1970s.

This year the cases were predominantly around South-East Queensland, with cases also being reported on the Sunshine Coast.

He said if a person found a bird lying on the ground and it appeared to be dead or injured, it was still worth taking to a vet.

“The treatment can vary, depending on how badly they are affected.”

Black and white image of man
Professor Darryl Jones from Griffith University.(Supplied)

Professor Jones said feeding birds was — and wasn’t — the problem.

“It’s not the feeding itself; the problem is we bring them in together.

“Just as we thoroughly know now with [coronavirus], anytime we bring animals together in one location, we spread the virus.”

He said it was thought some of the birds’ natural foods might be the origin.

“There is an enormous amount of natural food out there, flowers of every sort, but somehow it’s causing a disease.

“We don’t know the link — we know what it is, but we don’t know what is causing it or why.”

Posted 1 May 20201 May 2020, updated 1 May 2020

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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