On The Wild Side: Avian flu situation is getting worse and precautions must be taken now

A cedar waxwing is seen in this photo by Ann Brokelman.


Hello Beach Metro Community News readers, today’s topic isn’t a happy one, but I think it’s necessary that we spend more time addressing the worsening avian flu situation.

I’ve written before about what to do when you’ve found an injured bird: How to prepare a box to contain it, how to pick it up carefully, and how to bring it into a safe space like your garage. I want to be very clear now, that this should only apply to songbirds that you believe have struck a window, or something similar.

If you see sick or dead waterfowl, farm birds, hawks, owls, crows, or blue jays, DO NOT TOUCH THEM!

Please keep reading for more information and to learn more about what to do.

While many of us look forward to the return migration of the birds, this year there is a huge concern over the High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

With migration, the opportunity for transmission, and mutation, has greatly increased. Now, while avian flu isn’t new, it’s different this year.

To help put it in perspective, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC), “conducts year-round targeted surveillance for AI having tested an average 6300+ birds (live and dead) per year between 2005 and 2016, during this time an average of ~14 positives were identified per year.” (http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/docs/fact_sheets/avian_influenza.pdf)

Now, compare that “14 per year” to what the CBC just reported a few days ago: “Across Canada, an estimated seven million birds and counting have been infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) during a devastating global outbreak that shows no signs of winding down.”

Not only is the flu having a ‘devastating’ effect on our birds, H5N1 has also crossed over into 40 different species, including foxes, skunks, mink, and even a dog in Oshawa.

Thankfully, for whatever reason, the risk in songbirds, pigeons, and doves is quite low, which is why we haven’t been told to stop using our backyard feeders yet. I wonder though, since blue jays are getting sick, if even that will change soon.

I know a lot of people are wondering what they can do to help.

First and foremost, please stop feeding the waterfowl. We’re not supposed to be doing this anyway, but it’s more important than ever that we all stop. When someone throws a handful of food into the water, or along the shore, and all the ducks, geese, swans, etc. come together to fight for the food, that becomes a prime opportunity for the flu to spread.

Transmission occurs through, “direct contact with fecal or respiratory secretions from infected birds.” (CWHC) Picture all those birds running out of the water to pick up the bird seed, walking through the droppings on the ground, and then pecking at each other to get at the food.

Some of you may remember being told, during the height of COVID-19, to stand several Canada Geese apart to prevent spreading the disease. Well, now we want the geese to stand and swim several people apart to keep them healthy.

Something else that you could do to help would be to use the Online Reporting Tool, put out by the CWHC, if you find a sick or dead bird.

Their system, using your submissions, allows them to track trends and outbreaks more quickly and accurately and your report will be automatically directed to the relevant regional office. You can find the tool at: http://cwhc.wildlifesubmissions.org. If you go to their website, you’ll find other useful information and resources.

Remember that you can also call the Toronto Wildlife Centre. Right now, many birds are migrating, and window strikes are more common.

Wildlife Centres and Animal Control have proper PPE equipment to deal with injured wildlife and birds. Ever since I started volunteering with them, I’ve always carried, in my car, N95 masks, double latex gloves, and disinfectant for my shoes and boots.

I am so sorry to have to share this information with you, but it is better for us, our pets, and our wild friends to be safe.

Enjoy the spring, and let’s hope for a safe and healthy summer.

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