Kelly Bostian for CCOF
Oklahoma officials are not prepared to recommend residents take down backyard bird feeders to stem the spread of highly pathogenic avian flu. However, they urge caution as such guidelines are observed in northern states.
The United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services reported a positive case of HPAI in a wild duck in Payne County in March and this remains the only one. However, awareness and caution remain important in Oklahoma even though the state is not under “strong pressure” for testing, Deputy State Executive Kendra Cross said.
Advisories from the USDA’s National Health Inspection Service for Animal Welfare and the Centers for Disease Control continue to advise simply awareness, caution, and cleanliness.
Migratory waterfowl are major contributors to the spread of avian influenza, caused by a virus that has several strains, some more serious than others. Most can carry the disease without becoming ill, so as they migrate they transmit the disease to other bird species as well as within their own flocks.
Bird flu is not a big concern for turkey hunters in the field now for turkey season. Marcus Thibodeau, an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation biologist and Southwest Turkey Project Manager, said normal precautions for any wild animal that appears ill are conservative. It is not impossible for birds to contract the flu but it has not been documented in non-migratory wild turkeys. However, it is one of many other possible diseases the department will look for in ongoing research, he said.
Cross said Oklahoma is primarily interested in waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and birds of prey, and other samples have been sent for testing in recent weeks, but the results haven’t been released. not yet rendered. “We assume at this point that no news is good news,” she said.
Reports of the outbreak have come as much of the waterfowl migration has already passed Oklahoma, so a greater concentration is active in northern states and other states where flu outbreaks have hit poultry farms. However, people should assume that the disease remains present, she said.
The flu has been documented in nearly every state across the country after spring migration, according to USDA alerts and maps.
“As far as animal care is concerned, we are advising all poultry producers to ensure that they continue to follow all of their biosecurity measures very closely,” Cross said. “So far we have been OK on the poultry production side.” Still, she advised caution.
“Just because we haven’t seen spread to humans in the country doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wearing (personal protective equipment),” she said.
Persons who find concentrations of dead birds of any kind, dead eagles or other birds of prey, or waterfowl, are urged not to touch and contact USDA Wildlife Services at 405-521-4039 or the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Animal Industry Division at 405-522-6141, she said.
Cross recommended people with feeders follow standard precautions to keep feeding stations clean to prevent the spread of any disease, as they always should.
“People can obviously take bird feeders or birdbaths if they want to be extra careful, and if they notice a dead bird they should contact us,” she said. “It’s always best to be on the safe side and clean bird feeders regularly. Bird flu is spread through saliva, mucus and feces so it can be shed where the birds are concentrated.
The call for caution is loudest from the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ recommendation this week reflects the center’s call for feeders to come down through at least May 31.
Raptor Center executive director Victoria Hall noted that while the role of songbirds in spreading the disease is unclear, the current spread of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain is “unprecedented” and she urged people to do all they can.
“Every day at the Raptor Center, we see the impact of HPAI as we triage and test birds like bald eagles and great horned owls who suffer acutely from fatal neurological diseases due to HPAI. With these infected birds humane euthanasia is the only tool we have left to help them We also know that this strain and outbreak is causing serious disease in other species like geese, ducks, blue jays and crows,” Hall wrote.
Hall recommended that people stop using feeders and birdbaths “for the next two months.”
While hummingbirds are much less at risk, she also recommended people remove hummingbird feeders or clean them daily.
Kelly Bostian is a freelance writer who works for the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and raising awareness about conservation issues facing Oklahomans.