Captive-reared Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) released into Florida for the resident reintroduction project experienced unusually high mortality and morbidity during the 1997–98 and 2001–02 release seasons. Exposure to infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) serotype 2 as evidenced by seroconversion was suspected to be the factor that precipitated these mortality events. Very little is known about the incidence of IBD in wild bird populations. Before this study, natural exposure had not been documented in wild birds of North America having no contact with captive-reared cranes, and the prevalence and transmission mechanisms of the virus in wild birds were unknown. Sentinel chickens (Gallus gallus) monitored on two Whooping Crane release sites in central Florida, USA, during the 2003–04 and 2004–05 release seasons seroconverted, demonstrating natural exposure to IBDV serotype 2. Blood samples collected from Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) and Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) in eight of 21 counties in Florida, USA, and one of two counties in southern Georgia, USA, were antibody-positive for IBDV serotype 2, indicating that exposure from wild birds sharing habitat with Whooping Cranes is possible. The presence of this virus in wild birds in these areas is a concern for the resident flock of Whooping Cranes because they nest and raise their chicks in Florida, USA. However, passively transferred antibodies may protect them at this otherwise vulnerable period in their lives.
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Vol. 46 • No. 3