To determine the relative importance of mortality factors for birds and to assess for patterns in avian mortality over time, we retrospectively examined data of birds submitted to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS; http://vet.uga.edu/scwds), US, from 1976 to 2012. During this period, SCWDS, a wildlife diagnostic laboratory, received 2,583 wild bird specimens, from the taxonomic orders Apodiformes, Caprimulgiformes, Cuculiformes, Passeriformes, and Piciformes, originating from 22 states. Data from 2,001 of these birds were analyzed using log-linear models to explore correlations between causes of mortality, taxonomic family, demography, geographic location, and seasonality. Toxicosis was the major cause of mortality, followed by trauma, bacterial infection, physiologic stress, viral infection, and other (mortality causes with low sample numbers and etiologies inconsistent with established categories). Birds submitted during fall and winter had a higher frequency of parasitic infections, trauma, and toxicoses, whereas birds submitted during the spring and summer were more likely to die of an infectious disease, physiologic stress, or trauma. We noted a decrease in toxicoses concurrent with an increase in bacterial infections and trauma diagnoses after the mid-1990s. Toxicosis was the most commonly diagnosed cause of death among adult birds; the majority of juveniles died from physiologic stress, trauma, or viral infections. Infectious agents were diagnosed more often within the families Cardinalidae and Fringilidae, whereas noninfectious etiologies were the primary diagnoses in the Bombycillidae, Parulidae, Sturnidae, Turdidae, and Icteridae. There are important inherent limitations in the examination of data from diagnostic labs, as submission of cases varies in timing, frequency, location, and species and is often influenced by several factors, including media coverage of high-profile mortality events. Notwithstanding, our data provide a rare opportunity to examine long-term, regional, and temporal patterns in causes of avian mortality, and they allow for the analysis of novel and rare mortality factors.
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