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Parasitología latinoamericana

versión On-line ISSN 0717-7712

Parasitol. latinoam. v.62 n.3-4 Santiago dic. 2007 


Parasitol Latinoam 62: 183 -187, 2007 FLAP



Parasites of pigeons (Columba livia) in urban areas of lages, Southern Brazil



* Laboratory of Protozoology, Department of Clinical Veterinary Pathology, School of Veterinary Sciences of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
** Department of Biological and Health Sciences, School of Biology of Universidade do Planalto Catarinense (UNIPLAC), Lages, Santa Catarina, Brazil.

Dirección para correspondencia


The prevalence of ectoparasites and endoparasites was studied in 5 8free-living pigeons (Columba livia) in urban areas of Lages, in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. The pigeons were visually inspected and fecal and blood samples were collected to determine the presence of ectoparasites. The serological diagnosis was established through the use of blood smears stained with Quick Panoptic and Giemsa methods. The fecal samples were analyzed using Sheather 's method. The Quick Panoptic andGiemsa methods detected 67.24% (39/58) and46.55% (27/58) ofHaemoproteussp, respectively. The prevalence rate amounted to 57% of 116 smears analyzed (P value=0.0387; odds ratio = 2.357 with a 95% confidence interval). The prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites was 74.14% (43/58). Protozoa (100% for Eimeria sp.) were detected in 86.05% of the cases and nematodes (Ascaridia sp. and Capillaria sp.) in 32.56%, whereas 20.93% of the pigeons were infected by multiple parasites. The fly Pseudolynchia canariensis was found beneath the feathers of all pigeons. This is the first report of parasites in C. livia in the state of Santa Catarina.

Key words: pigeons, Columba livia, Hippoboscidae, helminths, protozoa.


A prevaléncia de ecto e endoparasitos de 58 pombos (Columba livia) de vida livre foi estudada em áreas urbanas de Lages, estado de Santa Catarina, Brasil. Os pombos foram submetidos ao exame visual para a coleta e identificação de ectoparasites, coletas de fezes e sangue. O diagnóstico hemoparasitológico foi através de esfregacos sanguíneos corados pelas técnicas de Panótico Rápido e Giemsa. As fezes foram processadas pelo método de Sheather. Entre os hemoparasitos destacou-se o Haemoproteus sp., com 67,24% (39/58) para a técnica de Panótico Rápido e 46,55% (27/58) para a técnica de Giemsa. Dos 116 esfregaços analisados, a prevalência foi de 57% (P = 0,0387; Odds Ratio = 2,357 e Intervalo de Confiaça de 95%). A prevalência de parásitos gastrintestinais foi de 74,14% (43/58) com 86,05% para protozoários (100% para Eimeria sp.), 32,56% para nematódeos (Ascaridia sp. e Capillaria sp.) e 20,93% multiparasitados. A presença da mosca Pseudolynchia canarienses foi observada entre as penas de todas as aves. Este é o primeiro registro destes parásitos em C. livia no estado de Santa Catarina.


Pigeons of the order Columbiformes are ubiquitous birds and can be found in virtually every town and city around the globe. Columba livia is a species that descends from wild rock pigeons, which live in Mediterranean Europe. There has been a sharp increase in the number of these birds in Brazilian cities, drawing the attention of authorities to health and building defacement issues1.

Those who watch these birds can barely imagine how detrimental their disorderly reproduction may be and how many risks they

pose to human health. They constitute a major source of infection and transmission of diseases. They are often a cause for repulsion and nuisance due to the accumulation of fecal droppings and to the disruptive noise associated with their presence. Humans are infected by inhaling fecal dust from cages or from sites that have been contaminated with dry feces, urine and other droppings. This usually occurs among breeders, veterinary doctors, industrial workers, and cleaning workers2.

Several health problems can affect pigeons, but parasite infections play a major role. The prevalence of C. livia parasites was studied on the Canary Islands, where Pseudolynchia (P.) canariensis was observed in 36%, Haemoproteus (H.) columbae in 82%, coccidial oocysts in 50% and Ascaridia columbae in 40% of the pigeons.3 In Costa Rica, Haemoproteus sp was detected in 4.8% of birds4; in Queensland, Australia, a total of 3,059 birds were examined and Haemoproteus sp was found in 31.4% of them5.

Endemic free-ranging Galapagos doves (Zenaida galapagoensis) and rock pigeons (C. livid) were surveyed in several islands of the Galapagos archipelago to establish the sample prevalence of blood parasites. Haemoproteus sp, the only blood parasite identified, was found in 89% of the Galapagos doves sampled, but not in the rock doves.6 In Bulgaria, the total prevalence of the genus Haemoproteus amounted to 18.5%7. In Alaska, a study for the detection of blood parasites in birds during the breeding season revealed that the prevalence of Haemoproteus ranged from 5 to 18%8.

The prevalence of blood parasites was investigated in Japanese wild birds (from 1988 to 2001) and 5.1% were infected with Haemoproteus sp9. A total of 315 birds from Villavicencio and San Miguel, Colombia, were tested for the presence of hematozoa; of these, 50 birds (15.9%) harbored blood parasites of the genus Haemoproteus.10 Haemaproteus was the most prevalent parasite among C. livia in Uganda (76.5%)u, in South Africa (80%)12 and in the USA(22.8%)13.

In the state of Minas Gerais, in southeastern Brazil, a research study with free-living pigeons (C livia domestica) showed that all pigeons were infested with P. canariensis - a blood-feeding louse fly - and with H. columbae and Eimeria sp. oocysts. A. columbae was detected in 4.91% of the pigeons and 3.27% presented with mixed infections caused by A. columbae and Raillietina spp14. The prevalence and intensity of blood parasites in three species of wild doves were studied in the western region of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. H. columbae was found in the blood of all dove species15,16.

Hippoboscidae flies are ubiquitous and a vector for Haemoproteus sp among pigeons and doves of the order Columbiformes, whereas P. canariensis is the vector of//, columbae among Columba livia pigeons, both in the case of natural and experimental infections11,17. They can be found in all biogeographical regions and usually infect birds and some mammalian orders. Currently, there are 30 species in Brazil, classified into 10 genera; however, there is a paucity of information on their distribution and on their hosts in all Brazilian regions14-17. Gastrointestinal parasites are underinvestigated in birds. A report on captive wild birds, including those of the Columbidae family, carried out at a scientific rearing station and in a park in the city of Recife, northeastern Brazil, showed that 29.9% of the birds tested positive for helminths and/or protozoa; also showing that Capillaria sp was the most prevalent parasite, in addition to confirming the presence of Ascaridia sp and coccidial oocysts (8.3%)18.

The aim of this study was to determine the presence of ectoparasites and endoparasites in free-living C. /z'vz'a)that congregate around the public squares of Lages.


The pigeons included in this study were surveyed on the streets and squares of Lages, state of Santa Catarina, southern Brazil. They were captured with a fine mesh net after authorization by the Municipal Department of Environmental Protection and by the State Military Police Department of Santa Catarina. The study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of Universidade do Planalto Catarinense (UNIPLAC). The pigeons were tagged with a leg ring to avoid multiple sampling.

A total of 58 male and female, different-aged pigeons were captured with a fine mesh net at different times between April and August 2004. Blood samples were initially collected from the pigeons. Thereafter, the pigeons were caged and taken to the Animal Facility of UNIPLAC, where they received water ad libitum until their stools could be sampled. After that, the pigeons were visually inspected for the detection, collection and identification of ectoparasites, and set loose immediately after that. Ectoparasites were identified using a stereo microscope and taxonomic keys17.

The blood samples were collected using an insulin syringe inserted through a brachial vein catheter. Each sample provided two blood smears, fixed with methanol and stained with Quick Panoptic and Giemsa dyes19. The slides were analyzed under light microscopy using an oil immersion objective.

The fecal matter was analyzed by Sheather's method, whereby protozoa and helminths were detected and identified, with decantation of the supernatant extract on the glass slide after the centrifugation flotation technique20.

Fisher's exact test (Graphpad Software, version 2.04) was used to compare the two diagnostic methods. An alpha error of less than 5% (p < 0.05) was considered statistically significant.


The fly Pseudolynchia canariensis was found beneath the feathers of all pigeons (Figure 1).

Haemoproteus sp, a protozoan transmitted by biting dipterans of the Hippoboscidae family, was the major parasite detected. The serological diagnosis through the use of staining methods revealed that 67.24% (39/58) of the samples yielded positive results when stained with the Quick Panoptic dye. Among the 58 slides stained with Giemsa, 46.55% (27/58) demonstrated the presence of Haemoproteus sp (Figure 2).

The positive and negative results for 116 blood smears are shown in Table 1.

The statistical analysis demonstrated that a two-sided P value of 0.0387 was considered to be significant, with an odds ratio of 2.357 and a 95% confidence interval. This difference showed that the Quick Panoptic method was more sensitive in detecting parasites in blood smears of Columba livia.

The overall prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites amounted to 74.14% (43/58), with 86.05% (37/43) for protozoa, with the detection of Eimeria sp oocysts in all positive samples. Of these samples, 27.9% (12/43) were infected by multiple parasites, showing associations between Eimeria sp. and Ascaridia sp and Ascaridia sp and Capillaria sp, whereas these three parasites were detected in 11.62% (5) of the samples. The prevalence of nematodes was 32.56% (14/43), and parasites of the genus Ascaridia (13/14) (92.85%) prevailed over those of the genus Capillaria (3/14) (21.42%) (Figure 3). The highest infection rate was that of Eimeria oocysts.


The result for P. canariensis is the same observed for pigeons of the same species in the state of Minas Gerais, southeastern Brazil.14 The study conducted in São Paulo, also in southeastern Brazil, with three pigeon species, showed smaller prevalence rates of 58.4%, 36.5% and 33.6%, respectively16. On the Canary Islands, the prevalence of the fly P. canariensis amounted to 36%3.

The results of the present study demonstrated higher rates of blood parasites than the other few studies carried out in Brazil in two regions of the state of São Paulo for H. columbae, however, with a smaller rate than was observed in Minas Gerais (100% for H columbas). The investigation into the prevalence of blood parasites in pigeons and other birds in Costa Rica4, Alaska,8 and Japan9 revealed rates lower than 10%; in the United States13, Colombia10, Bulgaria7 and in Queensland5, Australia, the prevalence rates ranged from 20 to 32% for Haemoproteus sp. Similar or higher prevalence rates for Haemoproteus sp than those observed in this study were found in Uganda11 (76.5%), in South Africa12 (80%), on the Canary Islands3 (82%), and on the Galapagos archipelago6 (89%). The prevalence of gastrointestinal nematodes in Columba livia pigeons was higher than that obtained for Minas Gerais, in southeastern Brazil14; another study showed coccidial oocysts, but no prevalence data, unlike another study with pigeons from the public squares of Lages, where 100% of fecal samples revealed the presence of oocysts, in addition to a prevalence rate higher than 30% for nematode eggs, besides the predominance oí Ascaridia sp31418. Neither of the referenced studies revealed the presence of ectoparasites or endoparasites that could be zoonotic to humans, nor did the present study.

This is the first report on ectoparasites and endoparasites in Columba livia in public squares of Lages, in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil.



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Correspondencia a:

Sandra Márcia Tietz Marques
Faculdade de Veterinaria. Universidade Federal do Rio
Grande do Sul Rúa Aneron Correa de Oliveira 74, ap. 201
CEP: 91410-070
Bairro Jardim do Salso, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil
E-mail: Fax: + 55 51 33087305


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