California Island-dweller is Under Threat

SANTA CRUZ, Calif., Oct. 18 (UPI) — The only bird in North American living exclusively on a single island is under threat, say scientists trying to capture and vaccinate them one by one.

They worry that West Nile virus could wipe out the rare island scrub jay, which lives only on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Though not officially an endangered species, scientists working in Channel Islands National Park say it’s susceptible to the virus, which could quickly wipe out the species if infected mosquitoes or birds make it across the Santa Barbara Channel.

“It’s imprudent to think it’s not going to happen,” said Scott Morrison, director of conservation science for the Nature Conservancy in California. “It’s just a matter of time.”

For the last year a crew has been trapping jays one by one and inoculating them with a vaccine produced by the Centers for Disease Control.

By next spring, the crew on Santa Cruz will have vaccinated about 250 birds, enough, they hope, for a disease-resistant population core to survive if West Nile takes out all the rest.

Just finding the birds is a challenge, researchers say, and required a helicopter to survey inaccessible areas.

“Santa Cruz is crazy rugged,” biologist Scott Sillett says. “If you were to hike to all those spots, you’d blow out several sets of knees.”

But to lose the species would be an environmental tragedy, Sillett says.

“We’d lose North America’s only endemic island bird. On all the continent’s thousands of islands, there’s just one species confined to a single island — and this is it,” he says.

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