Chewing lice (Insecta: Phthiraptera) are the most widespread obligate ectoparasites living in the plumage of birds. Lice have to cope with unusual mechanical effects during ringing, and they could fall off their hosts. We assumed that trapping birds in nets, taking measurements and estimating condition could reduce their louse burdens. Lousiness affects life expectancy and reproductive success, so if ringing causes remarkable louse loss, the fitness of ringed birds could be altered. Lice are usually collected at ringing sites, and ringing precedes parasite sampling. This may therefore lead to an underestimation of louse prevalence and intensity. Here we tested whether ringing reduces the louse burden. We allocated Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica in the breeding season to two experimental groups — the birds were subject to either a standard ringing procedure (recording biometry, fat and other condition scores, feather hole counts), or a reduced one (only feather hole counts). We used feather holes (traces of louse chewing) as a measure of louse loads. Holes were recounted after a month. Significantly more new holes appeared in the reduced ringing procedure group, indicating tat the usual ringing procedures effectively reduce louse loads. We believe this is the first evidence that bird ringing affects ectoparasite infestations.
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