Bizarre ‘zombie pigeons’ plague Moscow, raising concerns about infectious disease

This sounds like one of those 'this is how it all started' movements from a horror movie, but the situation is all too real, and residents of Moscow are concerned about what's behind a recent plague of what are being called 'zombie pigeons' in their city.

Starting last week, dead and dying pigeons have been found littering the streets of Moscow. Reports of the behaviour of those walking around has been very strange, as well, with the birds: "twisting their necks, walking backward in circles or standing completely still with their heads on the ground," according to The Wall Street Journal.

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A Moscow resident who said their name was 'Umid' called in to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL), saying: "When I walk to work, I usually see pigeons running and jumping around. But recently, they haven't been reacting to anything at all. When a person walks past them, they used to fly away. But now they just sit there in a kind of funk and don't even pay attention to you. They're just not normal. I've seen some pigeons behaving very strangely, turning around in circles."

According to RFERL, someone on Twitter said: "I saw a pigeon sitting right in the street, its bill resting on the ground. It's like a bird apocalypse."

The Moscow Times reported that the original cause of the strange behaviour and deaths was thought to be the Newcastle disease virus. Newcastle disease can be deadly to birds, and whereas it can easily transmitted to humans, it's not considered to be deadly to humans, apparently causing conjunctivitis (pink eye) and flu-like symptoms.

However, according to, autopsies performed on the birds found that they were suffering from salmonella poisoning, and a committee of veterinarians said: "The disease poses no risk for humans, provided standard precautions of personal hygiene are observed and direct contact with sick birds is avoided. Activators of avian influenza and psittacosis (an infection that can be transmitted to humans) have not been identified."

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Interestingly, this 'epidemic' — which apparently happens every year, and not limited to just in Moscow — started roughly the same time that a series of strange bird deaths that happened in the north end of Winnipeg (on August 7th). Authorities investigating the deaths of around 60 grackles are still baffled by what caused it. West Nile disease and avian flu have been ruled out, and nothing unusual was found in their stomachs that could have poisoned them. Testing on the birds hasn't been completed yet, but hopefully they can find the reason for it soon, before more birds start dropping dead.

(Photo courtesy: Reuters)

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