Bird-specific ticks do not infest humans and livestock, but these ticks often share their avian hosts with generalist ticks that do. Therefore, their feeding activity may have an impact on the transmission of pathogens outside bird–tick transmission cycles. Here we examined the seasonal feeding activity of the tree-hole tick (Ixodes arboricola) in relation to the activity of its hole-breeding hosts (Parus major and Cyanistes caeruleus).We analysed data on ticks derived from birds, on the abundance of engorged ticks inside nest boxes, and on bird nests that were experimentally exposed to ticks.We observed a non-random pattern of feeding associated with the tick instar and host age. The majority of adult ticks fed on nestlings, while nymphs and larvae fed on both free-flying birds and nestlings. Due to their fast development, some ticks were able to feed twice within the same breeding season. The highest infestation rates in free-flying birds were found during the pre-breeding period and during autumn and winter when birds roost inside cavities. Except during winter, feeding of I. arboricola overlapped in time with the generalist Ixodes ricinus, implying that tick-borne microorganisms that are maintained by I. arboricola and birds could be bridged by I. ricinus to other hosts.
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