West Nile in the Wild

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It’s the sequel Hitchcock never made: but this time the birds die. The West Nile Virus has arrived, bringing with it the apocalyptic promise of disease-riddled crows raining down from New York City trees; finches and sparrows dropping dead in suburban back yards.

It might be a summer blockbuster, if two dozen humans weren’t among the death toll. The mosquito-born disease landed in America about three years ago, and despite all the speculation about what it might mean for humans, it has quickly evolved into a wrecking ball of avian devastation, decimating more than 100 species including jays, owls, and eagles.

The biblical imagery of West Nile’s continuing migration isn’t lost on wildlife experts rushing to explain the source of the pestilence, and assessing potential shockwaves up through the food chain. Counting dead crows.


Dr. Kathryn Converse, wildlife disease specialist, National Wildlife Health Center

Ward Stone, state wildlife pathologist, New York Department of Environmental Conservation

Bob McLean, program manager for wildlife diseases at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado

Vicki Kramer, Chief of Vector-Borne Disease Section, California Department of Health Services