Differential impact of West Nile virus on California birds

Sarah S. Wheeler, Chris Barker, Ying Fang, M. Veronica Armijos, Brian D. Carroll, Stan Husted, Wesley O. Johnson, William Reisen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The strain of West Nile virus (WNV) currently epidemic in North America contains a genetic mutation elevating its virulence in birds, especially species in the family Corvidae. Although dead American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) have been the hallmark of the epidemic, the overall impact of WNV on North America's avifauna remains poorly understood and has not been addressed thoroughly in California. Here, we evaluate variation by species in the effect of WNV on California birds from 2004 to 2007 by using (1) seroprevalence in free-ranging birds, (2) percentage of carcasses of each species reported by the public that tested positive for WNV, (3) mortality determined from experimental infections, and (4) population declines detected by trend analysis of Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data. Using Bayesian linear models, we extrapolate trends in BBS data from 1980-2003 (pre-WNV) to 2004-2007 (post-WNV). We attribute significant declines from expected abundance trends in areas supporting epiornitics to WNV transmission. We combine risk assessed from each of the four data sets to generate an overall score describing WNV risk by species. The susceptibility of California avifauna to WNV varies widely, with overall risk scores ranging from low for the refractory Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) through high for the susceptible American Crow. Other species at high risk include, in descending order, the House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica), and Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli). Our analyses emphasize the importance of multiple data sources in assessing the effect of an invading pathogen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 16 2009


  • Avifauna
  • California
  • West Nile virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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