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Birds use herbs to protect their nests


Researchers from Ohio Wesleyan University suggest that some birds may select nesting material with antimicrobial agents to protect their young from harmful bacteria. They present their findings at the 104th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

"If the fresh herbs and plant materials that parent birds bring into the nest have a sufficient concentration of antimicrobial compounds, they could protect the nestlings from harmful bacteria," says researcher Jann Ichida.

To find out if plants brought into the nest might prevent disease, Ichida and colleagues tested twelve different volatile plant materials against feather-degrading bacteria. Results showed that several types of plant materials and extracts including usnic acid, ascorbic acid, yarrow, and two oak species inhibited the growth of a number of harmful bacteria.

"If the fresh herbs have a sufficient concentration of these chemicals, they could protect the nestlings from harmful bacteria," says Ichida. "By practicing medical botany, parent birds exercise effective home nest security and protect their offspring from select biodegrading microbes that affect the health of their young."

This release is a summary of a presentation from the 104th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, May 23-27, 2004, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Additional information on these and other presentations at the 104th ASM General Meeting can be found online at or by contacting Jim Sliwa ( in the ASM Office of Communications. The phone number for the General Meeting Press Room is 504-670-4240 and will be active from 12:00 noon CDT, May 23 until 12:00 noon CDT, May 27.

Jim Sliwa | EurekAlert!
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