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Hunters bringing home spring birds could also bring bird flu

Wild turkeys and many other birds have benefited from the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which compensates landowners to restore native habitats.
Mike Blair
/
MCT/Landov
Spring turkey season in Colorado is easy to participate in—and hunters have a decent chance of bringing home a bird—but the Avian Flu makes things more complicated for those wishing to participate in turkey hunting season.

Spring turkey season in Colorado is easy to participate in—and hunters have a decent chance of bringing home a bird—but the Avian Flu makes things more complicated for those wishing to participate in turkey hunting season. At least one home flock of chickens has already been wiped out by a hunter who brought home an infected turkey in 2022.

Joey Livingston, a public information officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says hunters need to remember that the disease can spread to mammals.

"The majority of the mammals that are testing positive are eating infected birds," Livingston said.

It remains unclear what the effects of the disease are in mammals, but the Avian Flu can have brutal effects. In many bird species, fatality rates climb very high and the disease spreads rapidly. It's standard procedure to kill every bird in an infected flock to ensure the disease doesn't spread outside.

Among those mammals that have been identified as infected are mountain lions and bears. While the probability of the disease being transferred to household pets— or to humans— is minimal, CPW is still urging that hunters take extra precaution.

Bird Flu has killed a dizzying proportion of Colorado's chickens— at one point in 2022 the flu had killed more birds than the state's all-time peak number of egg-laying hens.

In January, Colorado State Veterinarian Maggie Baldwin said that the disease was presenting a serious threat to Colorado's egg production.

“We've lost more than 90% of our table egg-laying hen population in the state,” Baldwin said.

Turkey hunters need to take great care not to touch their face or mouth while cleaning birds— in particular, remember not to smoke while cleaning an animal. You should always use gloves, and make sure that you handle the bird away from household pets or chickens. Hunters should always clean all cutting boards and knives thoroughly. It’s also important to cook your turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. And never harvest a turkey that looks sick— do not knowingly eat a sick bird for any reason.

The spring turkey season ends on March 31st. A license can be purchased at most sporting goods stores with proof of hunter education.