As the number of possible bird flu cases in British Columbia soars by the dozens this summer, the provincial SPCA is advising British Columbians to suspend bird feeders and baths — a directive some bird experts disagree with. Okay.
Since January, 44 wild birds in British Columbia have been tested for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), with peaks in the disease nationwide occurring in late May and early July. Between February and June, a bald eagle, wood duck, northwest crow, great blue heron, peregrine falcon and two great horned owls from the province tested positive.
In Greater Victoria, a Canada goose near Rock Bay and another from View Royal were tested for HPAI in June.
“This strain is believed to have originated from migratory birds,” said BCSPCA wildlife welfare officer Andrea Wallace, adding that it first entered eastern Canada from the United States. before “spreading rapidly across the country and into British Columbia.”
All species of birds can contract HPAI, but Ann Nightingale of the Rocky Point Bird Observatory explained that waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors that forage and forage along the water’s edge remain most at risk. .
“Waterfowl can actually carry disease and show no signs of disease,” Wallace said.
She called bird feeders, which can attract poultry and other animals and quickly become unsanitary, a “great recipe for the spread of disease”. Not only do feeders cause unnatural gatherings of wild animals, they also transmit disease when birds eat below them on the ground where their droppings accumulate.
A regularly cleaned, sanitized and refreshed birdbath probably poses few problems for birds, Wallace noted, but most people don’t take that level of care.
Nightingale said there was no need to temporarily remove bird feeders and empty birdbaths, explaining that HPAI has not always been a problem for wild birds in North America and affects mainly chickens and other domestic flocks.
“It’s devastating for poultry farmers to lose tens of thousands of birds to this flu,” she said.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in a statement to Black Press Media, said waterfowl and other wild birds are not normally affected by HPAI, but are “natural reservoirs of influenza virus”. and can transmit the disease to domestic birds. HPAI can reach birds via infected poultry and contaminated manure, bedding, clothing, footwear, vehicles, equipment, feed and water.
“Wild birds are believed to be responsible for a number of these outbreaks,” the statement said, referring to the “unprecedented number” of HPAI cases affecting farmed birds across Canada, most recently in Quebec.
While the agency only lists biosecurity practices for farmers, maintaining high sanitation standards and separating poultry and wild birds are the dominant themes.
Nightingale said people mistakenly attribute the spread of the disease to bird feeders because that’s where they usually see affected birds.
“It’s a good idea to keep your feeders and baths clean…but (HPAI) is not caused by feeders.”
She recommended that residents move bird feeders around their property, clean them more thoroughly and more often, avoid spilling the contents on the ground, and consider not refilling them for several weeks to avoid flocks of birds. Birds with HPAI can appear sluggish and very bloated and, as Nightingale said, actually look sick.
Some bird feeders were taken down earlier this year in response to the outbreak. many birdwatchers were disappointed, she added. “It was sad this spring how many people said they missed having the birds in their yard.”
When asked how long this outbreak might last, Wallace replied, “That’s the million dollar question and we really don’t know.” The BCSPCA did not expect to hear more new cases of HPAI at this point.
To report a sick or HPAI-positive bird in British Columbia, call 1-866-431-2437.
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