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Nested PCR for Suttonella ornithocola reveals widespread infection in British Paridae species


Suttonella ornithocola, a bacterium in the Cardiobacteriaceae family, is postulated to act as a pathogen targeting the respiratory tract of wild birds in the tit families (Paridae and Aegithalidae). This organism has fastidious culture requirements, which might lead to missed detection; thus, a nested PCR targeting the 16S rRNA gene was designed to provide an additional detection tool. DNA was extracted from combined lung and trachea samples from 114 birds in the Paridae and five in the Aegithalidae. These wild birds were found dead across England and Wales, 2005–2012 inclusive, and examined post-mortem. The PCR detected S. ornithocola in 15 birds from the Paridae family only: 11 blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), three great tits (Parus major) and one coal tit (Periparus ater). Derived sequences of the 16S rRNA gene had 100% identity to S. ornithocola from previous studies. Positive cases had a widespread geographical distribution across the study period with recurrent spring seasonality, consistent with an endemic infection. Incident history and pathological findings indicated that S. ornithocola infection was likely to be a significant contributory factor to the deaths of at least two birds (from two sites), was of equivocal significance in four birds (from four sites) and was an incidental finding in nine birds (from eight sites). Nested PCR detected S. ornithocola in ten birds for which microbiological examination of the lung was culture-negative for the bacterium. A combination of molecular, microbiological and histopathological examinations is recommended to further investigate the epidemiology and significance of S. ornithocola infection.

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We thank the BTO Garden BirdWatch participants and the general public for reporting and submitting dead garden birds for post-mortem examination; Dr. H Malnick from Public Health England for assistance with primer design; Dr. K. M. Peck from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Mr. M. Toms from the British Trust for Ornithology, for collation of avian mortality incident reports; Katie Beckmann and Ricardo Castro Cesar de Sa for their assistance with the pathological investigations and Ann Pocknell from Finn Pathologists for the histopathological examination of one case.

This study received financial support from the following organisations: Birdcare Standards Association (; the British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (; CJ Wildbird Foods (; (Cranswick Pet Products (; Defra ( and the Welsh Government through the Animal Plant and Health Agency’s Diseases of Wildlife Scheme Scanning Surveillance Programme (Project ED 1600) within their Scanning Surveillance Programme and project WC1027 from the Strategic Evidence Fund); Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (; Gardman Ltd. (, the RSPB ( and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (

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Correspondence to Becki Lawson.

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Peniche, G., Fernandez, J.RR., Durrant, C. et al. Nested PCR for Suttonella ornithocola reveals widespread infection in British Paridae species. Eur J Wildl Res 63, 50 (2017).

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  • Paridae
  • Aegithalidae
  • Tit
  • Veterinary pathogens
  • Epidemiology
  • Cardiobacteriacae