Zombie pigeons in the UK: Mystery bird illness turns living birds into zombies

The zombie pigeon disease doesn’t seem to have made it to mainland UK yet (Getty Images)
The zombie pigeon disease doesn’t seem to have made it to mainland UK yet (Getty Images)

Pigeons who fall ill with pigeon paramyxovirus, a disease also known as PPMV or Newcastle’s Disease, will experience a range of neurological symptoms, such as a violently twisted neck and trembling wings.

They also dramatically lose weight, have green droppings, walk in circles (often meaning they can’t fly), and are reluctant to move.

While the disease cannot affect humans, it can cause conjunctivitis in those handling the sick birds and so caution is advised.

The condition and its alarming symptoms have caused people to call infected birds ‘zombie pigeons’. Here’s what you need to know about the disease.

Are there zombie pigeons in the UK?

It has so far affected populations on Jersey, where some birds have had to be euthanised.

There haven’t been recorded cases on the mainland yet, and officials in Jersey are putting down birds in the hopes of preventing the spread of the disease any further.

What steps are being taken to combat zombie pigeons?

The government has released advice to those who own or handle pigeons, recommending: “Vaccinating your pigeons against the disease – talk to your vet for advice [if you run pigeons shows or races, you must ensure any bird taking part has been vaccinated] and practising strict biosecurity on your premises.”

JSPCA Animal Shelter on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands has been leading attempts to contain the disease, telling the Mirror that the illness has no treatment “and many birds die within a few days”.

“Any that do survive will continue to shed the virus and be a risk to other birds,” a spokesperson added. “At the JSPCA, affected birds are humanely euthanased.”

The disease is extremely infectious among birds, spreading through droppings and other bodily fluids. It’s especially common at this time of year, as the virus can survive longer in the wetter, colder months.