Avian influenza causes unprecedented damage to eagles and other birds

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Avian flu is killing bald eagles and other wild birds, and many sick birds are unstable and unable to fly to rehabilitation centers.

Victoria Hall, executive director of the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, said: “At that time, they were in the depths of the disease, and there was no way of treatment.”

The latest outbreak of the highly contagious virus has killed nearly 37 million chickens and turkeys on U.S. farms since February, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed 956 cases of bird flu in wild birds, including at least 54 eagles. However, the current figure could be much higher, as not all dying wild birds are tested and the federal record does not include cases registered by wildlife restoration centers.

According to the latest data, during the last bird flu epidemic in 2015, it was almost 10 times higher than the 99 confirmed cases of wild birds. This time, the virus was found in birds in 34 states, making it more widespread than it was seven years ago. .

The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center also collects data from wildlife officials on suspected and confirmed deaths from bird flu. It estimates that 8,536 wild birds have died from bird flu in recent years.

“It’s definitely an unprecedented event,” said Rebecca Paulson, who has studied avian flu for 15 years at Georgia University’s Southeast Wildlife Research Institute. “The number of birds, species and states found in this is very dangerous.”

Aquatic birds, including commonly infected ducks and geese, and predators and predators that feed on them, are the most frequently infected birds, but cases of three dozen species have been confirmed. Ducks and geese can usually live without the virus, but the latter option is more contagious and fatal.

“We are seeing a huge impact from this virus,” said Hall, of the Raptor Center in St. Petersburg. Paul, Minnesota, treats about 1,000 birds a year. “Every day we see birds affected by this virus.”

Since the end of March, almost 61% of the 188 birds examined by the rehabilitation center have contracted bird flu and all but one have died. According to Hall, workers wearing protective equipment had to test sick and injured birds for bird flu and quarantine them before bringing them to the center to prevent transmission to other birds.

According to Hall, none of the 114 positive cases registered at the center, including 28 bald eagles, were included in the USDA account. According to him, the big-horned owl hopes to recover from the virus and some wild birds will be able to fight it.

USDA officials did not answer questions about why they withdrew data from rehabilitation centers.

In a study published three years ago, researchers estimate that the number of wild birds in North America has dropped by nearly 3 billion since the 1970s, when humans continued to attack their habitat. Samantha Gibbs, a veterinarian with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other experts say it is too early to know how bird flu will affect bird populations as the epidemic continues and there is not enough time to study it.

“We are very worried. I think we’re keeping a close eye on the death rate in the spring and summer, ”Gibbs said.

Gibbs and Pulson say they fear the virus could survive the summer, which usually kills, leading to infections that fall when the migratory birds return to the south. This was the first time the virus had spread in Europe.

The bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States since the 1700s, is one of America’s most famous conservation achievements. Today, there are about 300,000 bald eagles in the country – the population quadrupled between 2009 and 2021 – and in 2007 the bird was removed from the list of endangered species in the United States. With this in mind, experts believe that the species must be able to withstand the effects of this virus.

State and federal officials will monitor the success of the eagles’ nesting this spring and summer to measure the impact of the virus.

Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, which has positively assessed three dead eagles for bird flu, has documented a sharp decline in eagle populations this year in six coastal counties where many migratory birds spend the winter. Less than half of the 73 nests found there have spawned, and the success rate of nests elsewhere in the state has averaged 78% in recent years.

Some experts, including Hall, have suggested removing residential bird feeders to prevent further spread of the virus, but the USDA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have not recommended it because bird flu is not common among yard birds. . However, they say it is important to regularly clean bird feeders to help limit the spread of other diseases.

“Wild birds can now use all the help they can get,” Hall said.

When the virus is found on poultry farms, officials slaughter all animals to control the spread of the disease, even if most birds have no symptoms. So far, 37.36 million birds have been killed in 32 states.

USDA officials emphasize that bird flu does not pose a threat to food security because infected birds are not allowed to enter the food and that proper cooking of birds and eggs at 165 degrees kills all viruses or bacteria.

Health officials also say avian flu does not pose a serious threat to human health, but a human case was reported in Colorado last month. Officials say humans cannot be infected if they are not exposed to infected birds for long periods of time.


Associated Press writers Carrie Antlfinger of Milwaukee and Doug Glass of Minneapolis contributed to the story.

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