THE only Great Grey owlet to survive from nine eggs at a popular bird of prey centre is battling to overcome a serious disease.
As reported in the Press last month, staff at Elite Falconry were delighted the chick was thriving, however since then he has developed Aspergillosis, a fungal disease of the respiratory system.
Barry Blyther, head falconer at Elite Falconry, explained Great Grey owls are like all birds from the extreme north – they are native to Canada, Scandanavia and Russia – and have a very limited immune system.
He said: “The biggest problem this causes is an inability to deal with the bacteria that float around in normal ‘clean’ air.
“When vegetation is cut or dies, it releases a fungal spore called aspergillus.
“It’s in the air around us all the time, but in the arctic north, these occur at very low levels.
“Here in the more temperate zones, it occurs at much higher densities, thus a bird from that region struggles to cope with these higher volumes until it is fully developed and develops immunity through exposure.”
The disease causes a fungal plaque to build up in the lungs and air sacs, which left untreated will slowly starve the bird of air.
Secondary infections can also lead to loss of appetite, weight and condition.
With staff spotting the condition early and seeking help from Alistair Lawrie, one of the world’s leading raptor vets, the bird is now on a new drug, as well as antibiotics to prevent secondary infections and another to stimulate his appetite, and is responding to treatment.
“He has his voice back, and he’s breathing much better,” said Barry.
“He had lost so much weight it was horrible.
“Considering he only weighed 24oz at his heaviest, at one point he lost three ounces in 24 hours and went as low as 19oz.
“He is now very slowly regaining weight.”
But despite this progress Barry said he is still a long way from a full recovery: “He is not out of trouble by a very very long way – he’s still a very sick owl, but his decline has been halted, and he’s now going in the right direction.
“By the vet’s words, he’s on ‘gold standard treatment’ so there’s nothing further we can do but continue the treatment and hope!
“Mr Lawrie has been absolutely brilliant and we can’t thank him enough for all his help.”