The importance of passerine birds as tick hosts and in the transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease: a case study from Scotland

Marianne C. James, Robert W. Furness, Alan S. Bowman, Ken J. Forbes, Lucy Gilbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.) is the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis, the most common tick-borne zoonosis of humans in Europe and North America. Here, we assessed the relative importance of different passerine bird species as tick hosts and their contribution to the B. burgdorferi s.l. transmission cycle in a rural residential area in Scotland. We caught 1229 birds of 22 species during the tick-questing season. On average, 29% carried larval ticks (0.8 larvae per individual) and 5% carried nymph ticks (0.06 nymphs per individual). All attached ticks tested were Ixodes ricinus. Using a nested-PCR, we found that 20% of nymphs tested positive to B. burgdorferi s.l. and all these were of the genospecies Borrelia garinii. We identified two new bird species carrying infected nymphs: Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus and European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris. Ground-foraging species were more important than arboreal species in hosting I. ricinus nymphs and B. burgdorferi s.l. Common Blackbirds Turdus merula were the most common hosts, with Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos, Dunnocks Prunella modularis, European Greenfinches and Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs also hosting high rates of infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-302
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


  • Chaffinch
  • Common Blackbird
  • Fringilla coelebs
  • Ixodes ricinus
  • Lyme borreliosis
  • Turdus merula
  • Ixodes ricinus ticks
  • Borne encephalitis-virus
  • Sensu-Lato
  • Migrating birds
  • Infected ticks
  • Genomic groups
  • Europe
  • Prevalence
  • Association
  • Blackbirds

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