A DISEASE which threatens the survival of favourite garden birds has been spotted in Horsham.
Members of the public are being encouraged to remain vigilant by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and report any sightings of birds displaying avian pox symptoms.
This form of the virus causes lesions around the eyes and beak.
Researchers now want help from the public to help track any further spread of the disease.
Avian pox can be spread through contaminated bird feeders, via biting insects and through direct contact between birds.
It has been known in species including dunnock, woodpigeons and house sparrows for many years, but is now also affecting great tits.
Horsham resident Brian Bateman told the County Times: “I saw a bird with a funny growth on it. I think it was an adult sparrow with warts on its face which were pink and stood out around the sparrow’s face.
“I saw the first adult sparrow Monday night August 1. Wednesday morning August 3 I listened to the report on avian pox on BBC Radio 4’s The Today Programme, then I looked on the BBC website and read more about the disease.
“That evening I saw what I think was a baby sparrow that was obviously blind because it had lesions all over its face and beak. I then contacted the RSPB and informed them of my sighting.
“It could be devastating to the wild bird population. I was shocked when I saw the adult sparrow because I’d never seen anything like it before in my life - the bird’s head looked deformed.’’
An RSPB spokeswoman said bird feeders should be cleaned. It was not known for sure which insects were passing on the virus, but the group being looked at included mosquitoes and midges. Caterpillars were safe, she said.
The RSPB is encouraging those with gardens to remain particularly vigilant as the information that the public gives will be passed on to researchers in an attempt to gather more information about the disease.
She added: “Great tits, among other birds, become vulnerable and more susceptible to death by predators, such as birds of prey and cats.”
The RSPB said it didn’t know how often birds recovered from the infection, or how many birds die from it.
However, members of the public can report cases of avian pox by calling the RSPB Wildlife Enquiries Unit on 01767 693690 or visit the charity’s website at www.rspb.org.uk