‘People are upset because they’re finding geese in the middle of the road seizing, or they find a snow goose in their backyard. It’s really hard to respond to those calls.’
An Alberta wildlife conservation organization is asking Albertans to help prevent the spread of avian influenza as the organization deals with daily calls for sick wild animals.
Bird feeders should be taken down and bird baths emptied for now, according to the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC).
Taking away areas where birds are encouraged to gather can curb the spread of the deadly disease, explained Holly Lillie, AIWC executive director.
“We are receiving calls daily about HPAI, and we’re admitting animals regularly that are suspected to have the virus … it could be anywhere from one to five to 10 calls a day,” Lillie said.
“The consideration is to not encourage birds to gather together at places such as bird feeders or bird baths, because we just don’t know enough about this virus yet.”
While avian influenza is not new, this strain is highly transmissible and deadly. Chickens with the virus usually die within 48 hours according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Wild bird populations are also susceptible to severe disease and death.
“For those animals, all that we can do is provide compassionate euthanasia. There is no cure or vaccine for this virus. The animals that we are receiving are really, really sick.”
More than 1.8 million farmed birds have died from avian flu within the last year, according to the latest numbers from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Alberta is the hardest hit with 937,000 deaths affecting 24 farms.
Animals admitted to AIWC include Canada geese, snow geese and great horned owls, Lillie said. However, other wildlife centres across the country are reporting other species, like peregrine falcons and bald eagles, she said.
Case reports from the CDC suggest mammals like pigs, cats and dogs are also susceptible to the virus.
“People are upset because they’re finding geese in the middle of the road seizing, or they find a snow goose in their backyard,” she said. Nearly 20 animals with the flu have had to be humanely euthanized at the AIWC so far.
“It’s really hard to respond to those calls.”
Mark Boyce, a University of Alberta professor and the Alberta Conservation Association’s chair in fisheries and wildlife, said removing feeders now that the weather is warmer will help prevent birds from congregating and spreading the virus through close contact.
“Now, during migration, we’re getting all these different species showing up which is kind of fun, but there’s a really high risk of transmission at the bird feeders,” he said.
“Also the bird feeders should be cleaned to make sure that the disease isn’t there.”
Anyone with domestic chickens also needs to do everything they can to keep them away from wild birds, he said.
“If you’ve got poultry, bringing them in at night for sure and minimizing the chances that they might come in contact with wild birds … because once it gets into the chickens, it’s all over,” he said.
Some of the symptoms of avian flu can include swollen eyes, discharge from the nose and eyes, muscle tremors, jerky movements, drooping of the bird’s wings and poor balance, Lillie said.
Anyone who sees an animal with symptoms of avian flu is asked to call AIWC’s hotline at 403-946-2361 for further instructions.
The AIWC has a Wildlife Baby Shower fundraiser on this month with a goal to raise $20,000 by May 31. Proceeds from this fundraiser will be used to help care for animals in need.
— With files from Ashley Joannou
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