GAME BIRDS are performing well this season despite poor counts earlier in the year and many shoots having to close their doors to visitors.

The SF caught up with Dr Matthew Balfour, of St David’s Game Bird Services in Scotland, for a rundown on health and disease updates on released game birds and grouse.

“The shooting season for pheasant and partridge is now in full swing and generally birds are performing well,” he reported. He also encouraging the submission of samples for total worm counts (TWCs), coccidia and louping ill testing, in order to monitor the health status of grouse populations.

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“We are seeing some issues with worms, particularly on heavily stocked ground and the signs are often snicking, lethargy and poor flying birds,” he continued. “Another sporadic concern this season has been “swollen head syndrome (SHS)” so called because the causes are multifactorial and may involve various viruses and bacteria.

“Approximately 50% of birds with SHS are testing positive for mycoplasma gallisepticum. Nationally, to date, we have seen fewer mycoplasma infections than in 2019/2020, but we have seen an increase in other respiratory pathogens implicated in SHS,”

These include avian metapneumovirus (aMPV or TRT), infectious bronchitis (IB) - a virus found in many poultry species - and finally ornithobacterium rhinotracheale (ORT).

“ORT is a commensal bacteria that often sits in most birds’ respiratory system,” Dr Balfour explained. “The moment that respiratory system is weakened, ORT takes advantage and flourishes. Importantly, people need to be aware that if the birds have got swollen eyes, this does not necessarily mean it is just mycoplasma.”

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He went on to highlight the concerns regarding Avian Influenza (AI). “Already it has been found in wild birds across the UK, including released game birds, and there have been several outbreaks in poultry flocks (both backyard and commercial).

"With no cure available and mortality rates which approach 100%, AI is a huge concern and must be taken extremely seriously. In particular, anyone coming into contact with live or shot game should follow strict biosecurity protocols before visiting any captive poultry," he pointed out.