An epizoological study of Plasmodium infections in wild birds of Kern County, California, in the years 1946 through 1951 greatly extended knowledge of the occurrence of these parasites and their behavior in nature. Examination of 10,459 blood smears from 8,674 birds representing 73 species resulted in the observation of Plasmodium spp. in 1,094 smears representing 888 individual birds of 27 species. Seven species of Plasmodium were found: relictum, elongatum, hexamerium, nucleophilum, polare, rouxi and vaughani. Plasmodium relictum was by far the most frequently observed species, occurring in at least 79 per cent of the infected birds. Twelve new host species are recorded for this parasite. Sufficient morphological variation was observed to indicate that two strains of this species probably exist in nature. Numerous new host records were made of plasmodia with elongate gametocytes. The finding of parasites believed to be P. rouxi in two new host species represents the first record of the occurrence of this Plasmodium outside of Algeria. Multiple smears were obtained from a number of individual birds over varying time periods. Evidence of prolonged parasitemia was unusual, but some individuals had parasitemia on consecutive months and even for three successive years. In most individuals, parasitemias were of short duration. The inoculation of blood from wild birds into canaries led to the demonstration of many infections not observed on blood smear examination of donors. Use of these two complementary techniques led to more complete host records and a truer picture of the prevalence of infection. Three age classes of birds were studied--nestling, immature (less than 1 year of age) and adult. Parasites were observed in all three groups but infections in the younger individuals were most susceptible to interpretation. As to time of onset, numerous records were obtained of infection in nestling birds. Prevalence rates in immature birds after a single season's exposure ranged from 64 to 100 per cent in the house finch and 17 to 68 per cent in the English sparrow in different areas and years. Marked differences were found in the prevalence rates in different summer months, years and areas. It is believed these differences reflect variation in a number of environmental factors. This study indicates the extensive distribution of Plasmodium infection in a wide range of wild avian hosts. The observations are of possible importance in epidemiological studies of other arthropod-borne diseases such as the viral encephalitides for which these birds serve as hosts.
Additional publication details
Studies on avian malaria in vectors and hosts of encephalitis in Kern County, California. I. Infections in avian hosts