Avian Cholera during migration of shorebirds

Avian Cholera in Wildlife: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Avian cholera, also known as fowl cholera, is a bacterial disease that affects a wide range of bird species. The disease is caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida and can result in high mortality rates among infected populations. Avian cholera can have a significant impact on wildlife populations, including waterfowl, shorebirds, and other avian species. This article will provide an overview of the causes, significance, species affected, distribution, transmission, clinical signs, diagnosis, treatment, management, and conclusion of avian cholera in wildlife.


Avian cholera is caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida, which is commonly found in soil and water. The bacterium is able to survive for long periods in these environments, making it a persistent threat to wildlife populations. The disease is typically spread through contact with contaminated water, soil, or food sources. Infected birds shed the bacterium in their feces, which can then contaminate water sources and soil. The disease can also be spread through direct contact between infected and healthy birds.


Avian cholera is a significant threat to wildlife populations, particularly waterfowl and other avian species. The disease can spread rapidly through bird populations and result in high mortality rates. In addition to the direct impact on bird populations, avian cholera can also have ecological consequences, including impacts on food webs and nutrient cycling.

Species Affected:

Avian cholera can affect a wide range of bird species, including waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, and other avian species. Waterfowl are particularly susceptible to the disease, with outbreaks often occurring during migration or wintering periods. Other species that have been affected by avian cholera include eagles, hawks, and vultures (especially if they’re exposed while scavaging).


Avian cholera is found throughout the world, with outbreaks occurring in both freshwater and marine environments. The disease is particularly common in areas where bird populations are concentrated, such as wetlands and other areas with abundant water sources. Outbreaks of avian cholera can occur at any time of year, but are most common during migration or wintering periods.


Avian cholera is typically spread through contact with contaminated water, soil, or food sources. Infected birds shed the bacterium in their feces, which can then contaminate water sources and soil. The disease can also be spread through direct contact between infected and healthy birds. In some cases, the disease can be transmitted through contaminated surfaces, such as equipment or clothing.

Clinical Signs:

The clinical signs of avian cholera can vary depending on the species of bird and the severity of the infection. In general, infected birds will exhibit signs of respiratory distress, including labored breathing and coughing. Other common signs include lethargy, depression, and loss of appetite. Birds may also exhibit neurological symptoms, such as tremors, convulsions, and paralysis. In severe cases, infected birds may die suddenly without exhibiting any clinical signs.


Diagnosing avian cholera can be challenging, as the clinical signs are similar to those of other respiratory diseases. However, laboratory testing (typically via serological testing) can confirm the presence of the bacterium in infected birds. Samples of blood, tissue, or feces can be tested for the presence of Pasteurella multocida.


There is no cure for avian cholera, but infected birds can be treated with antibiotics to help control the spread of the disease. However, treatment is often not feasible in the wild, and infected birds may die before treatment can be administered.


Avian cholera is a highly contagious disease that can have devastating effects on wild bird populations. Once an outbreak is detected, it is crucial to act quickly and effectively to contain and manage the disease. The following management strategies are commonly used to control and prevent the spread of avian cholera:

  1. Control measures: Control measures can help to reduce the spread of the disease. This can include quarantine, restriction of movement of infected birds, and culling of infected or exposed birds.
  2. Vaccination: Vaccination can be an effective tool in preventing avian cholera in certain populations of wild birds. However, it is important to note that vaccines do not provide complete protection against the disease, and should be used in conjunction with other management strategies.
  3. Habitat management: Managing habitat can help to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak occurring. This includes removing dead birds and animal carcasses, as well as managing water quality to reduce the growth of bacteria.
  4. Surveillance and monitoring: Regular surveillance and monitoring of bird populations can help to detect outbreaks of avian cholera early. This allows for a rapid response to contain and manage the disease.
  5. Public awareness and education: Educating the public on the risks associated with avian cholera and how to report and respond to suspected cases can help to reduce the spread of the disease.

Overall, effective management of avian cholera requires a coordinated and multi-faceted approach that involves a range of stakeholders, including wildlife managers, government agencies, and the public. By working together, we can help to protect wild bird populations from the devastating effects of avian cholera.


Avian mycoplasmosis is a widespread bacterial infection that can have significant impacts on wild bird populations, particularly those that are already under stress due to habitat loss, climate change, or other factors. The disease can affect a wide range of bird species, from waterfowl to songbirds (including arctic species), and can cause respiratory, ocular, and other health problems that can reduce their fitness and reproductive success.

As with most avian diseases, early diagnosis and treatment are essential for managing avian mycoplasmosis outbreaks and preventing the spread of the disease. Effective management strategies include reducing stressors in the birds’ environment, such as habitat loss or overcrowding, and implementing biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of the disease between captive and wild bird populations.

Further research is needed to fully understand the epidemiology and ecology of avian mycoplasmosis, as well as to develop new diagnostic tools and treatment options. By improving our understanding of this disease, we can better protect wild bird populations and promote the conservation of their habitats.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Ley, D. H., & Berkhoff, J. E. (1998). Diagnosis of mycoplasma infections in poultry. Avian diseases, 42(3), 513-521.
  2. Stipkovits, L., & Kempf, I. (1999). Mycoplasmoses in birds. Revue scientifique et technique (International Office of Epizootics), 18(1), 200-215.
  3. Dhondt, A. A. (2011). Avian disease: a challenge for ecological studies. The Auk, 128(1), 1-14.
  4. Feare, C. J. (2010). The role of wild birds in the spread of avian influenza viruses. Aves, 47(4), 32-39.
  5. Geary, S. J. (2008). Understanding the mechanisms of Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae pathogenesis: the need for more accurate and robust models. Veterinary microbiology, 126(1-3), 1-7.
  6. Friend, M., & Franson, J. C. (1999). Field manual of wildlife diseases: general field procedures and diseases of birds (No. 5). US Geological Survey.
  7. Olsen, B., Munster, V. J., Wallensten, A., Waldenström, J., Osterhaus, A. D., & Fouchier, R. A. (2006). Global patterns of influenza a virus in wild birds. Science, 312(5772), 384-388.
  8. Dhondt, A. A., Tessaglia, D. L., & Slothower, R. L. (1998). Survival and infectivity of Mycoplasma gallisepticum on surfaces. Avian diseases, 42(3), 617-621.
  9. Ley, D. H. (2003). Mycoplasma gallisepticum infection. Diseases of poultry, 11, 722-734.
  10. Dhondt, A. A., Altizer, S., Cooch, E. G., Davis, A. K., Dobson, A., Driscoll, M. J., … & Marra, P. P. (2005). Dynamics of avian influenza in wild birds and the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza strains. Infection, Genetics and Evolution, 5(3), 200-208.