Via Cornell Chronicle comes an article relevant to birds, research and the local community: the Lab of Ornithology is receiving a sizable grant towards studying severe conjunctivitis in house finches. The eye disease, caused by mycoplasma that apparently made a jump from chickens to finches in ’94, and makes finches less mobile and easier to prey upon. The disease rapidly spread throughout the house finch’s eastern range and, more recently, has established itself in the West.
And the article notes:
Furthermore, because the disease bears similarities with avian influenza and AIDS — in that all involve transmission via direct contact, a highly mobile host and zoonosis (where the pathogen jumps species) — the researchers hope these mycoplasma studies shed light on how other diseases spread.
More can be found out about this work at the official House Finch Disease Survey site. As we really know so little about contagious diseases in wildlife, I think that this is a particularly interesting story, and something that birdwatchers (or anyone with a birdfeeder) can contribute to across the country. All you have to do is report observations of birds with the disease via the Survey site.