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Bird flu continues to spread

Protect birds by not feeding them this spring

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To prevent possible transmission of the the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, the Minnesota Raptor Center is recommending residents take feeders down.
Contributed / Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
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Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), also known as bird flu, has been reported at a commercial turkey farm in Becker County.

According to data on the Board of Animal Health website, as of April 22 there were 2,703,497 birds in Minnesota that had tested positive, including birds in 54 commercial flocks and four backyard flocks.

Abby Schuft is an extension educator with the University of Minnesota based in Willmar.

She said residents in Hubbard County should be taking precautions now to prevent the spread of the disease as birds make their annual migration north.

Take down feeders and baths

“The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota is asking for bird feeders to be taken down,” Schuft said. “There is no specific research if songbirds carry avian flu or not. We do know raptors are dying from the virus, such as owls,hawks and bald eagles. They are animals of prey and eat smaller birds. We don’t know exactly why the raptors are becoming infected. Out of an abundance of caution the Raptor Center is making this recommendation.”

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She said birdbaths should also be taken down to avoid the possibility of the disease spreading through water.

“We know water can be a route of transmission from wildfowl to poultry, such as a shared pond,” she said. “That was the case on a New Hampshire farm that had domestic ducks, geese and chicken sharing a pond with wild waterfowl. It’s extremely contagious and there are no symptoms leading up to it. Once birds get it they usually die within 24 hours.”

She said birds migrating into Minnesota from their winter habitat could be bringing the virus with them.

Ron Miller is a retired pediatrician from Fargo who has led bird walks at Itasca State Park for more than 10 years and has a residence in the Nevis area. He said he is choosing to not feed the birds this spring.

“We don’t really know much about avian flu in songbirds, but we know waterfowl and raptors are being affected,” he said. “There’s an old saying ‘when in doubt, don’t.’ Since feeding songbirds could cause harm, just let them forage in nature.”

Miller said birds can survive off natural food sources now that winter is past and do not need supplemental feedings.

Waterfowl impacts

Schuft said the virus was discovered in Canada in December. In January, it was found in South Carolina. She said that likely means birds from Canada brought the virus during migration.

“They spent the winter in the warm climate commingling in different waters and habitats,” she said. “Most wild waterfowl are asymptomatic carriers. As they are returning back to their native habitat, they are carrying it north and west.”

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The Board of Animal health maps out cases in the state. “It’s very obviously the bottom two-thirds of the state of Minnesota,” she said. “The migratory birds haven’t returned yet to the northern third of Minnesota that still has ice on lakes.”

She said that’s why it’s important to take precautions now before migratory birds come here.

Erik Thorson is the Area Wildlife Supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“The DNR is part of the statewide response,” he said. “We would investigate any reports of wild birds that come in.”

Thorson said even though many lakes are still frozen, there are geese, ducks and swans on rivers where there’s open water.

“There are some birds coming back, but it’s not full-on migration yet,” he said.

Thorson said there have been no reports in Hubbard County of waterfowl and raptors affected so far.

“Owls, eagles and hawks are pretty susceptible to the disease, but we haven’t had any reports yet in our office,” he said.

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Protecting chickens

Residents who keep backyard chickens are also advised to take extra precautions.

“We know it is being spread by geese and ducks and there are cases in Becker County which is right next door to you,” Schuft said. “We know that wild waterfowl were the sources. So for small flocks, the best steps people can take are to keep their birds enclosed in a barn or a coop. If they need to put them outside, they should make sure they are in an enclosed area, such as a covered run made out of an old dog kennel with a tarp over it so wild birds don’t have the opportunity to come into that space at any time to share food the chickens might have left or drink their water. You want to make sure the chickens don’t have access to any wild waterfowl. That also includes shared ponds between domestic and wild birds.”

In addition, precautions should be taken to keep other animals away from the pond. “If the dog goes wading in the pond it could be contaminated with the virus,” she said. “If a person pets the dog and then goes to take care of the chickens they could spread the virus. The virus is like a leech. It can latch on to one host and transfer to another.”

Secretions, such as feces or saliva, spread the virus.

“Wild birds could be defecating in the pond, feeding on algae and contaminating the water source,” she said. “It’s like a kid peeing in the pool. Ponds aren’t chlorinated and don’t have a way to disinfect the virus.”

In a flock of chickens, she said normally all of the birds will be dead. They should be left in the coop so the Board of Animal Health can test them. “They will also give you reimbursement for the birds if they test positive,” she said.

Avian hotline and other resources

Report sick or dead birds to the Avian Influenza Hotline at 833-454-0156.

Reports will be directed to the appropriate agency and testers will come to the location where dead birds are reported.

Birds should be left in the location where they are found and not touched.

Updated information on recommendations to help prevent the spread of avian flu can be found on the Raptor Center website or by calling 612-624-4745.

A map of the number of cases and locations of avian flu is available at the Board of Animal Health website bah.state.mn.us/hpai.

RELATED COVERAGE:
Turkeys
Nearly 500,000 birds affected by early autumn surge in avian flu in Minnesota
More than 650,000 birds over 18 sites have been depopulated in Minnesota due to an early autumn surge in highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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