Surveillance targeting dead wild birds, in particular American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), plays a critical role in West Nile virus (WNV) surveillance in the United States. Using crow decoy surrogates, detection and reporting of crow carcasses within urban and rural environments of DeKalb County, Georgia were assessed for potential biases that might occur in the county's WNV surveillance program. In each of two replicated trials, during July and September 2003, 400 decoys were labeled with reporting instructions and distributed along randomly chosen routes throughout designated urban and rural areas within DeKalb County. Information-theoretic methods were used to compare alternative models incorporating the effects of area and trial on probabilities of detection and reporting. The model with the best empirical support included the effects of area on both detection and reporting of decoys. The proportion of decoys detected in the urban area (0.605, SE=0.024) was approximately twice that of the rural area (0.293, SE=0.023), and the proportion of decoys reported in the urban area (0.273, SE=0.023) was approximately three times that of the rural area (0.103, SE=0.028). These results suggest that human density and associated factors can substantially influence dead crow detection and reporting and, thus, the perceived distribution of WNV. In a second and separate study, the persistence and fate of American crow and house sparrow (Passer domesticus) carcasses were assessed in urban and rural environments in Athens-Clarke, Madison, and Oconee counties, Georgia. Two replicated trials using 96 carcasses of each species were conducted during July and September 2004. For a portion of the carcasses, motion sensitive cameras were used to monitor scavenging species visits. Most carcasses (82%) disappeared or were decayed by the end of the 6-day study. Carcass persistence averaged 1.6 days in rural areas and 2.1 days in urban areas. We analyzed carcass persistence rates using a known-fate model framework in program MARK. Model selection based on Akaike's Information Criteria (AIC) indicated that the best model explaining carcass persistence rates included species and number of days of exposure; however, the model including area and number of days of exposure received approximately equal support. Model-averaged carcass persistence rates were higher for urban areas and for crow carcasses. Six mammalian and one avian species were documented scavenging upon carcasses. Dead wild birds could represent potential sources of oral WNV exposure to these scavenging species. Species composition of the scavenger assemblage was similar in urban and rural areas but “scavenging pressure” was greater in rural areas.
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Vol. 42 • No. 1