Avian Pox

An infectious disease of birds caused by a virus which can cause permanent damage including blindness, beak malformation and loss of toes and feet.


It is not difficult to diagnosis Avian pox (AP) in an eagle when it is presented to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. These wart-like lesions, that can be the size of a golf ball, appear on the unfeathered part of the bird, such as the beak, eyelids, nostrils and legs and feet or between feather tracts anywhere on the body. An eagle may suffer from this trauma for some time as it develops into the last stages of hemorrhage and tissue death permitting bacteria and fungi to develop. The lesions also severely affect its ability to feed thus starving and exhaustion.

It has been determined there is no cure for this disease but care such as fluid therapy, balanced nutrition, decreased stress levels and medicinal treatment can help in the bird’s recovery.

The lesions can cause permanent damage including blindness, beak malformation and loss of toes and feet. The unpleasant outward appearance of the pox also affects mucous membranes, respiration, their gastrointestinal tract and can result in death. Avian pox seems to occur more in juvenile eagles than adults. It also seems that the birds’ susceptibility to the virus and the severity of the lesions are tied to its immune and nutritional state – so severely affected birds are often compromised in some other way and the virus really takes hold.

This disease is a member of the poxvirus family and is species specific. It is believed to be transferred from one bird to the next from an insect bite, direct contact, contaminated objects or by aerosol particles, trauma or damage to the epithelium (skin) when birds are fighting. There is no evidence that the strain affects humans.

Dr. McAdie DVM, NIWRA’s veterinarian says, “The severity of the lesions can be small and self-limiting if the bird is otherwise healthy. I think that these severely affected birds are presented in such a debilitated state that you can’t reverse the extreme damage from the virus. Our fundamental goal is to restore wildlife to full health so they can be returned to the wild and stand a good chance of survival or to end suffering. These birds are starving (often just feathers and bones) and they have been suffering in silence for quite a while. To not euthanize is to needlessly prolong their suffering. It always makes me sad to euthanize these eagles, but I know it is the right thing to do.”

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