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The bird flu is killing more wild species like geese, ducks, hawks and eagles

Madelyn Beck
Mountain West News Bureau

News Brief

The mortality rate in highly pathogenic avian influenza is nearly 100% for domestic poultry, but it’s killing wild birds now, too. Idaho recently identified its first such case in a great-horned owl.

Colorado assistant state veterinarian Morgan McCarty said it’s mainly affecting waterfowl, like ducks and geese.

“But we’re also seeing it in owls and eagles and vultures and hawks and crows across the United States where we have never seen the levels of virus in the wild birds that we’re seeing this year.”

In Colorado alone, the state has recorded several infected wild birds, including a bald eagle, a few Canada geese, two snow geese, Ross’s geese, two turkey vultures, a few mallard ducks and a green-winged teal duck.

Wild birds have long been blamed for spreading bird flu to poultry farms and backyard coops. Poultry deaths are breaking records in the Mountain West, too, while nearing national records.

Colorado recently had to dispatch more than a million chickens at an egg-laying facility after having to euthanize another 60,000 at a commercial broiler breeder.

Wyoming killed pheasants at a farm after infected turkeys died nearby. The state has also reported wild bird deaths ranging from a red-tailed hawk to owls to more geese.

There have been cases in Utah and Montana, but no widely reported cases in Nevada or New Mexico.

McCarty said previous strains of bird flu have died out in summer, and she hopes this one recedes within a month.

“If temperatures warm up and dry out, then there’s a good possibility that we might not have to deal with this virus much past the first of June,” she said. “Of course, that’s tough in a lot of ways because the West is in a terrible drought, so we don’t want hot, dry temperatures right off the bat.”

If any of your backyard chickens or poultry get sick or die, you can report their deaths to your state agriculture department. Experts urge poultry owners to use proper hygiene, including keeping chickens away from wild birds that may have the virus.

If you find a dead wild bird without signs of trauma, don’t touch it, note where it is, and contact your state wildlife officials.

Health experts said people shouldn’t be concerned with eating infected chicken or eggs when those foods are cooked properly. They also say it’s unlikely for humans to get the virus, though people working with birds are the most likely to contract it.

There has only been one reported case of a human who tested positive for the virus in the last year. It was a Colorado man who was working with infected birds. However, experts say their nasal swab could have picked up the virus just resting in his nose without actually infecting him.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.