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Health status of seabirds and coastal birds found at the German North Sea coast

Ursula Siebert1*, Philipp Schwemmer2, Nils Guse2, Timm Harder3, Stefan Garthe2, Ellen Prenger-Berninghoff4 and Peter Wohlsein5

Author Affiliations

1 Institut für Terrestrische und Aquatische Wildtierforschung, Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, Werftstr. 6, Buesum, 25761, Germany

2 Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum Westküste, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Hafentoern 1, Buesum, 25761, Germany

3 O.I.E., FAO und Nationales Referenzlabor für Aviäre Influenza, Institut für Virusdiagnostik, Friedrich-Löffler-Institut, Südufer 10, Greifswald-Insel Riems, 17493, Germany

4 Institut für Hygiene und Infektionskrankheiten der Tiere, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Frankfurter Str. 85-89, Giessen, 35392, Germany

5 Institut für Pathologie, Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, Bünteweg 17, Hannover, 30559, Germany

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Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2012, 54:43  doi:10.1186/1751-0147-54-43

Published: 19 July 2012



Systematic pathological investigations to assess the health status of seabirds and coastal birds in Germany were performed. The investigation was conducted to obtain data on possible causes of decline in seabird and coastal bird populations.


48 individuals of 11 different species of seabirds and coastal birds were collected by the stranding network along the entire German North Sea coast from 1997 to 2008, including mainly waders such as Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) and red knots (Calidris canutus) as well as seabirds such as northern fulmars (Fulmaris glacialis) and common scoters (Melanitta nigra).

For most birds (n = 31) found dead along the shore no obvious cause of death was evident, while 17 individuals were killed by collisions with lighthouses.


Overall, the nutritional status of the investigated birds was very poor, and the body mass in most cases was significantly lower compared to masses of living birds caught during the same periods of the year. This is partly linked to chronic parasitic or bacterial infections in different organs or to septicaemia. In some cases infections with zoonotic tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium spp. were found. Avian influenza was not found in any of the collected birds.


The presented data contribute to the evaluation of the health status of birds in the German North Sea. Moreover, they present an important tool for the assessment of potential pathogens with an impact on the health status of seabirds and coastal birds.

Seabirds; Coastal birds; Pathology; North Sea; German waters