Reservoir competence for the
Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, was tested for six species of native North American birds: American robin, gray catbird, brown thrasher, eastern towhee, song sparrow, and northern cardinal. Wild birds collected by mist netting on Fire Island, NY, were held in a field laboratory in cages over water and locally collected larval ticks were placed on the birds, harvested from the water after engorgement, and tested for infection by direct fluorescentantibody staining after molting to the nymphal stage. American robins were competent reservoirs, infecting 16.1% of larvae applied to wild-caught birds, compared with 0% of control ticks placed on uninfected laboratory mice. Robins that were previously infected in the laboratory by nymphal feeding infected 81.8% of applied larvae. Wild-caught song sparrows infected 4.8% of applied larvae and 21.1% when infected by nymphal feeding. Results suggest moderate levels of reservoir competence for northern cardinals, lower levels for gray catbirds, and little evidence of reservoir competence for eastern towhees or brown thrashers. Lower infection rates in larvae applied to wild-caught birds compared with birds infected in the laboratory suggest that infected birds display temporal variability in infectiousness to larval ticks. Engorged larvae drop from birds abundantly during daylight, so the abundance of these bird species in the peridomestic environment suggests that they might contribute infected ticks to lawns and gardens.