Wildlife Experts in Oregon Warn That the Bird Flu Epidemic is “Certainly Severe.”

Bird Flu: According to Oregon’s wildlife and agriculture officials, thousands of birds have been killed by a highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak that has spread to both wild birds and domestic flocks.

Almost every county in Oregon has reported seeing signs of the disease, commonly known as bird flu. The present strain is particularly lethal for wild birds; more of them have died from it than in prior epidemics.

There has been a significantly bigger increase in the number of backyard flocks affected, which includes chickens, ducks, and other domesticated birds. To date, just a small number of local turkeys have succumbed to the disease, despite the fact that the state of Oregon is not a major producer of turkeys.

Birds will behave as if they are inebriated. They flail around, swim in circles, and crash into the sides of houses because they lack coordination and energy. Those who develop symptoms typically pass away within a week.

Wildlife Experts in Oregon Warn That the Bird Flu Epidemic is “Certainly Severe.”

Oregon’s state veterinarian, Ryan Scholz, told reporters, “It’s extremely serious.”

In addition to being a naturally occurring environmental pathogen, avian influenza does not necessarily result in death or sickness in birds. However, some avian species, such as mallard ducks, have developed immunity to the disease. They show no signs of illness but can infect others through their feces.

Waterfowl can carry the virus for thousands of miles, and they usually bring it to the United States from Europe or Eurasia. Each time the birds land to rest, they spread the sickness.

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There has been an increase in the prevalence of more lethal strains of avian influenza in recent years. The spread of highly virulent avian influenza has wreaked havoc on the world’s wild bird populations and poultry industries. The virus has become widespread across Eurasia.

Potentially more deaths will occur this year than in previous years. Conditions of drought and heat are generally fatal to the virus because less dangerous strains of the disease simply outcompete it. The last time this happened with domestic birds in the United States was in 2014–2015.

Nonetheless, the summer illness of birds in the Pacific Northwest continued unabatedly. They kept dying all through the summer and into the beginning of October, which is not how the virus normally behaves.

Wild birds have been falling ill and dying in recent weeks across Oregon’s wildlife refuges, including the Willamette Valley Wildlife Refuges, the Tualatin River Wildlife Refuges, and the Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove. Colin Gillin, the state wildlife veterinarian, has stated that it is impossible to determine how many wild birds have been affected.

To put it in the thousands would be an underestimate,” Gillin said.

Wildlife Experts in Oregon Warn That the Bird Flu Epidemic is "Certainly Severe."
Wildlife Experts in Oregon Warn That the Bird Flu Epidemic is “Certainly Severe.”

The percentage of infected ducks is “significant,” according to Gillin, at around 17%. Although cackling geese are the most vulnerable right now, bald eagles, hawks, owls, and herons are also being wiped out by the disease in large numbers.

Gillin stated that species that do not feed on dead animals, such as songbirds and wild turkeys, have not been affected.

Several days ago, approximately 400 sick or dead geese were discovered at Wiser Lake in western Washington state, and several of them tested positive for avian flu. This has raised concerns for snow geese. There were a lot of snow geese among the dead birds. Since these birds are just now arriving in Oregon, Gillin warns that many more may perish here in the coming weeks.

Mammals, including skunks, foxes, and coyotes, have tested positive for avian flu in other states as well, most frequently in juveniles.

Although few people have been infected with bird flu viruses, the sickness does not pose a significant threat to humans. Still, officials warned that it is a disease that can mutate, so hunters should take precautions while handling wild birds by donning protective gear like masks and gloves and changing into clean clothes once they return home. Sick or injured birds should not be killed by hunters. Dogs’ encounters with ducks should likewise be limited.

Some sportsmen are concerned about how the die-offs may affect the current duck and goose hunting seasons.

Local hunter Eric Strand emailed me, saying, “I’m seeing quite a few dead geese on Sauvie Island and quite a few sick ones as well.”

It’s too early to tell, according to Oregon’s migratory bird coordinator Brandon Reishus. There are currently no intentions to discontinue hunting operations. This is a fluid position, though.

Sixteen confirmed cases in smaller flocks of farmed birds have been reported this year, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Scholz, the Department of Agriculture vet, said that’s a huge jump from the two confirmed cases during the outbreak in 2014–2015. An increase in calls over the previous week has led to an increase in the number of flocks being tested.

Approximately 2,000 domestic birds have been killed or euthanized in Oregon due to avian flu this year, according to Scholz. Some people who keep chickens in their backyards just keep a few birds and utilize them or their eggs themselves, while others raise hundreds of birds and market their products. As a precaution against the spread of avian influenza, the state has instituted multiple sales bans on meat and eggs from places under quarantine this summer and fall.

Scholz speculates that this is because commercial farms, which tend to have much larger flocks that are typically kept in vast barns, have such stringent biosecurity procedures in place.

Flock sizes affected by the illness have varied from 4 to 500 animals. Larger farms have a greater exposure to the disease since more birds perish in larger flocks. Scholz claims that “barrels of dead birds” were found on a huge backyard farm on Monday, where poultry deaths had begun on Saturday. Government agricultural workers were forced to put down the rest.

It’s not even limited to chickens. This year’s outbreak has killed hundreds of chickens, as well as ducks, quail, pheasants, and even a few emus that were kept as pets.

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Scholz predicted an increase in transmission in the coming weeks when colder weather and the peak of wild-bird migration coincide.

Weather like this, he continued, “is the makings of a perfect storm.”

One or two deceased wild birds can be safely thrown away in the trash, according to wildlife officials. The birds might be left where they are found in the wild or buried shallowly. The authorities warned against ever transporting one of the birds and urged extreme caution if anybody came into contact with them.

Fencing off farm ponds or grassy fields is one way for responsible owners to protect their flocks from wild ducks, as suggested by Scholz, who is concerned about the safety of domestic birds.

Those who have domestic flocks and notice a sudden loss of birds are urged to contact the Department of Agriculture. A veterinarian investigates all reported instances and collects samples for analysis. Scholz has stated that if the sickness is indeed verified, all birds will be put down.

He also said, “Avian influenza is 100% fatal” for domestic birds because they have not had time to develop immunity like wild birds have. The sickness will wipe off all bird populations. Inhumane euthanasia is preferable to watching them suffer and die.

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