Wildlife Disease and Zoonotics



Milton Friend

Document Type


Date of this Version

December 1999


Published in Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases: General Field Procedures and Diseases of Birds, edited by Milton Friend and J. Christian Franson, USGS-National Wildlife Health Center, 1999 (online 2007; http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/field_manual/).


Diseases caused by bacteria are a more common cause of mortality in wild birds than are those caused by viruses. In addition to infection, some bacteria cause disease as a result of potent toxins that they produce. Bacteria of the genus Clostridium are responsible for more wild bird deaths than are other disease agents. Clostridium botulinum, which causes avian botulism, is primarily a form of food poisoning and it is included within the section on biotoxins (see Chapter 38). Other Clostridium sp. that colonize intestinal tissues produce toxins that cause severe hemorrhaging of the intestine, thus leading to tissue death or necrosis and intoxication of the bird due to the exotoxins produced by the bacterial cell. The descriptive pathology is referred to as a necrotizing gastroenteritis or necrotic enteritis and the disease as clostridial enterotoxemia. The classic example in gallinaceous birds such as quail, turkey, pheasant, grouse, and partridge, is ulcerative enteritis or quail disease, which is caused by Clostridium colinium; quail are the species most susceptible to that disease. Necrotic enteritis of wild waterbirds, especially geese, has been reported with increasing frequency during recent years. Clostridium perfringens has been associated with these deaths.