A Virginia hawk has been recorded as the first bird in North America carrying an invasive tick.
In September, the hawk was brought to the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Boyce, Virginia. Covering everything from urban Arlington to the Blue Ridge mountains, the center rehabilitates over 2,000 animals each year.
The hawk was exhibiting West Nile virus symptoms.
“In September, we’re still seeing West Nile cases, and this looked like a pretty classic case.” explained Dr. Jen Riley, the centers director of veterinary services.
Riley said the bird had tremors, and many “classic signs,” associated with west nile in raptors.
The hawk had ticks around his eyes -- something Riley said is not uncommon.
“We had a couple of empty vials… so we collected those [ticks] that were too small to identify by eye.”
The center sent the ticks off for testing, and in the interim, continued to treat the bird for west nile.
“Ultimately, that bird got a lot better, was doing really well, was flying around beautifully and ultimately was cleared for release.”
The hawk was released in Rileyville, Virginia, a community located in Page County.
The following day, the center was notified that the hawk it had just released was the first bird in North America to be found carrying an Asian longhorned tick.
The Asian longhorned tick made it’s U.S. debut in New Jersey in 2017.
The tick is native to eastern Asia. The tick has become invasive in several countries including Australia and New Zealand, according to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study on the tick. The study, based out of the University of Georgia is conducting surveillance for the exotic tick in the eastern United States.
Blue Ridge is part of the study -- which also works with the United States Department of Agriculture.
“A lot of the bird diseases that we might see here could be a really big issue for our poultry industry. Things like this tick could be an issue for the cattle industry so USDA also has reason to want to be involved and fund that research.” Riley explained.
The longhorned tick has been known to carry pathogens impacting humans and animals. It has earned the nickname the “cattle tick.”
“There was a local kind of version (of the disease the tick carries that impacts cattle) that they did find in cattle here, but they’re unsure if it was associated with the tick or not. So, it’s really something that needs more research done.”
Riley said in general, many researchers believe more research needs to be done -- that it is too early to determine what impact the tick may have in the United States. Regardless, the hawk is a major development.
“Having that tick on a host that is able to fly has really big implications for its ability to spread geographically. Right, suddenly we’re not just limited to where a mammal could run, to but but we’re now talking about birds that can fly long distances -- so having it on a bird is a pretty big deal.”
The tick has appeared on multiple animals -- even humans, throughout the state.