As our readers know, the falcon Bella died of Frounce earlier this week. Bob and I were scheduled to go up to Cohasset to band, but he stopped at GRE and removed the dead falcon. Brenda Hoskyns took it to the Raptor Center, which confirmed Bob's diagnosis of Frounce and gave her Spartrix to treat the rest of the clutch.
According to The Modern Apprentice, Frounce is "a highly contagious yeast infection of the digestive tract. Frounce is caused by a protozoan called Trichomonas which is frequently present in the crops of pigeons...The typical signs of frounce are white spots in the mouth or crop, often described as "cheesy" or "white plaques." These alone are not enough to diagnose frounce, but it is one hallmark of the disease. Other signs are head flicking, difficulty breathing, or even regurgitation of food. Green mutes may also appear."
Here's a photograph from The Modern Apprentice (who credits it to Eileen Wicker of Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky). The yucky white stuff on the lower mandible of the great horned owl is characteristic of Frounce. It looks like Thrush, a yeast infection of the mouth that human infants can get.
Think about how quickly young falcons grow. By the time they are roughly 40 days old, they've reached their adult size. They've increased their body weight over 10 times, grown two new coats of feathers (a second down coat by 10 days and flight feathers by 40 days), and gone from mostly huddling under a parent through walking, practice flying, and real flying. Bob believes that this is a very stressful time for them, which makes them more susceptible to Frounce. Furthermore, this accelerated growth rate requires a lot of food. Anything that interferes with a growing falcon's ability to eat will quickly impact it. As PLoS states, The conditions an organism experiences early in life can have critical impacts on its subsequent health and well being, both over the short and long term. Since a falcon's 'early in life' passes pretty fast, events and conditions can very quickly reach the critical point.
At any rate, we drove to Grand Rapids on Wednesday night. Minnesota Power put us up for the night and we banded at the Cohasset plant in the morning. The weather was cloudy and cool - perfect for a stack climb. I discovered this year that rests are better taken on the fall gear and not the ladder enclosure - those harnesses are almost as comfortable as an easy chair when you hang in them. Here's a video of the banding. We were joined by Darryl Councilman, a MN Power employee who got the nestbox installed, and Swede, another MN Power employee who has been a real champion of the Peregrine-utility project. The babies were healthy and both parents were unbanded. I banded them - I've been getting a lot of practice - and drew blood. The trick is to have a nice big vein, someone who can keep the falcon still, and the ability to disconnect the worrying part of your brain from your hands, which need to be worry and shake-free.
We left Minnesota Power, picked up my children in North Branch, and drove to Elk River to treat the rest of the GRE nest. Last year, three of four young falcons in Duluth died after eating a bad pigeon. We didn't want a repeat. We were met by Brenda Hoskyns and another GRE employee. They took us up to the roof, where Bob and the other guy tied off and got the falcons. Brenda and I held them while Bob gave them pills. Brenda had the great idea to bring some water up to help wash the pills down. After Bob got the pills in the back of the falcons' throats, he sprinkled some water from his fingers into their open mouths. This helped lubricate everything, and the pills went right down. One of the falcons had Frounce lesions in its mouth, so this treatment saved at least one more.
We'll banding the King Plant and Highway 95 Ospreys the week of July 6th. I'll provide more info when I have it. I'm hoping to learn pole spiking before then...