By Dr Colin Walker BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc (Avian health)

Much has been said in pigeon circles about the effect of the importation process and quarantine procedure on the health of imported pigeons.

The pigeons are confined to small cages for many weeks. The lighting is totally artificial. They are subjected to a variety of diagnostic procedures, including blood collection, and receive a range of medications. And so what are the facts?

A close friend of mine regularly imports racing pigeons. We decided to thoroughly test two birds immediately upon release from quarantine, to evaluate their health. I contacted our local diagnostic lab, Idexx Laboratories, who do the majority of our diagnostic blood work and offer a great service. They offered to do two complete blood profiles for no charge.

The birds were collected from the Spotswood Quarantine Facility in Melbourne, placed in an empty cardboard box and transported directly to the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic. On arrival, they were thoroughly examined. A crop flush and fresh droppings were collected from each bird and examined microscopically. Blood was collected from both birds and forwarded to Idexx for complete biochemistry and haematology. Blood was also forwarded to another lab for specific testing for Chlamydia and Circo virus infections.

On examination, the birds were in generally good condition. Lice, however, were visible on the flight feathers. Microscopic examination of the crop flushes of both birds showed large numbers of trichomonads (i.e. canker organisms) in the birds while microscopic examination of the droppings revealed two to three coccidia eggs on each x100 microscope field. The biochemistry and haematology profiles, which measure red and white blood cell counts, blood sugar, total protein, cholesterol, kidney function, liver function, liver inflammation, pancreatic inflammation and other parameters were all totally normal. The tests for pigeon Circo virus and Chlamydia were negative in both birds.

From this small sample of two, it is hard to draw too many conclusions but if we extrapolate these results to the import consignment generally it appears that the birds coped quite well with the importation procedure, with both birds being in good condition, with normal blood profiles. It is, however, of some concern that the birds did have canker, coccidia and lice. Even though these organisms are in Australia, these are strains of these organisms from the other side of the world and may well be carrying characteristics, such as drug resistance or an increased ability to cause disease not present in Australian strains. The principal aim of the quarantine procedure is to ensure that diseases exotic to Australia, such as PMV and avian flu, do not gain entry. Although the introduction of new strains of organisms that are already here does not appear currently to be a concern to the Australian import authorities, they do have the potential to cause clinical disease in their new lofts. Fanciers should consider having freshly imported birds tested by an avian veterinarian and any identified health problem treated.