Does the roosting behavior of birds affect transmission dynamics of West Nile virus?

Michael P. Ward, Arlo Raim, Sarah Yaremych-Hamer, Richard Lampman, Robert J. Novak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The potential role of many urban passerine birds in the transmission of West Nile virus (WNV) is well-documented by studies on host competency, seroprevalence in wild birds, and identification of vector blood meal source. In contrast, the impact of bird behavior on transmission dynamics is largely unexplored. Bird roosting (perching) behavior may be a critical component regulating WNV transmission because of the crepuscular/nocturnal feeding behavior of Culex mosquitoes, the primary vectors of WNV. We used radio telemetry to determine the roosting behavior of American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and northern cardinals (Cardinalus cardinalus). On average, healthy crows moved slightly shorter distances between roosts than viremic crows, 1,038.3 meters versus 1,255.5 meters, while cardinals only moved 54.7 meters. Given the average movements of crows and cardinals between roosts, crows, which are viremic for five days, could spread the virus throughout a mean ± SE area of 20.84 ± 0.79 km2, while viremic cardinals would, on average, only spread the virus over a mean ± SE area of 0.03 ± 0.01 km2. Because the crow population in Illinois is decreasing at a rate of 11.5% per year and up to 35.6% per year in certain locations, crows are becoming scarce in some areas, thus reducing their role as wild bird sentinels. We suggest that if crows are important in dispersing WNV, large decreases in their abundance will shift transmission cycles to a more focal nature because of the differences in roosting behavior of crows compared with other urban birds, such as cardinals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)350-355
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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