West Nile Virus and Burrowing Owls

Photo: Eye of a Burrowing Owl

West Nile Virus emerged in the United States in the late 1990s, causing sometimes fatal disease in humans, horses, and a variety of bird species.

The burrowing owl is a species of special concern in California, but its susceptibility to West Nile Virus is unknown. Despite the known susceptibility of owls to West Nile, the California Raptor Center at UC Davis has received surprisingly few with the disease. It is critical to gain an understanding of the virus's impact on owl species in the state, not only for the conservation of the burrowing owl, but also to protect the entire ecosystem that would be affected by the loss of these predators.

Drs. Christine Fiorello and Michelle Hawkins propose to quantify the exposure of the more common owl species during a period of high West Nile Virus activity in the region, as well as that of the more threatened species during the whole history of the presence of the virus in the state. Results from this proposed study will begin to answer crucial questions regarding the exposure of owls to West Nile Virus in the Yolo County area of California.