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‘Mad bird’ disease threatens endangered Florida fowl

Birds in the Florida Everglades are dying of a poorly understood brain disease, and scientists are now worried that the illness could decimate the endangered snail kite, National Geographic reports. Avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM) appears to infect birds that have eaten a toxic species of blue-green algae growing on aquatic plants. The birds become lethargic and eventually are unable to fly or find food. These vulnerable waterfowl are often eaten by predatory birds, who can then develop the disease. Nearly 200 bald eagles have succumbed to AVM this way, as well as thousands of ducks and coots and a handful of other bird species. Endangered snail kites do not eat aquatic plants, but they do eat snails from lakes where algae-contaminated plants often grow, putting them at risk of encountering AVM. Although no snail kites have been observed with AVM yet, scientists are preparing to cut down aquatic plants in lakes where the birds hunt if necessary.


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