As winter turns to spring in the good ol’ United States of America, many of us hunters are thinking about birds.
Some have already blown some gunpowder on early migratory species like snow geese. Others are waiting for those (potentially) warmer mornings that find them listening to the turkeys waking in their roosting trees. Still others are simply happy the singing birds are back in the trees and the upland game birds have made it through another winter to produce more birds for the coming fall.
Unfortunately, it’s more than us hunters who are getting lost in bird-type thoughts right now. Three strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza, H5N1, H5N2 and H5N8, have made their way into the birds of our country.
Starting in December 2014, the strains have been found in a green winged-teal, northern pintail, mallard, and American widgeon in Washington; mallard, wood duck, northern shoveler, and northern pintail in Oregon; mallard in Idaho; gadwall, American widgeon, and green-winged teal in California; and American widgeon in Utah.
Several, small backyard poultry flocks, a commercial turkey operation, and some captive and wild raptors have been infected with the disease in some of these states, also. It appears that waterfowl (and possibly other wild bird species) are carriers of the virus but are not killed by it. Poultry and raptors are highly susceptible and easily succumb to infection with these strains of flu virus. These strains do not appear to be a concern for human health at this time but that could change over time.
Knowing this virus was in the waterfowl of the Pacific flyway drew concern from the rest of the country. What would happen when these Pacific birds mixed with birds from other flyways in their summer breeding grounds and then dispersed to migrate south again in fall? States along the Central, Mississippi, and Eastern flyways began to brainstorm and plan for the possibility of these fall migrants distributing influenza virus throughout the regions and into the commercial and backyard poultry flocks.
Like Mother Nature usually does, she surprised the Midwest with the discovery of H5N2 in commercial turkey flocks. It is not certain if the virus originated from wild birds or not. As of the second week in March, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas all had confirmed cases. Apparently there wasn’t time to plan and wait until fall. In Minnesota, a barn of 15,000 turkeys demonstrated a 99% mortality rate.
In central and southwest Missouri, farms of 21,000 and 30,100 turkeys, respectively, were confirmed to be infected with the virus. This has detrimental economic effects for these producers and states. More than 40 countries banned poultry imports from Minnesota, the nation’s largest producer of turkeys, jeopardizing up to about $100 million in exports.
So what does all this mean for the bird hunter? First of all and importantly, you have just become educated on the situation. We as hunters can help mitigate the problem by being conscientious and responsible.
Here are few tips:
– Follow current events to know where the virus has spread
– Pay attention to potential changes in game regulations in regards to bird hunting and carcass movement
– Keep the remains of harvested birds in the areas that they were harvested to reduce the risk of spreading disease to naive areas
– Keep the remains of harvested birds away from poultry and pet birds
– Thoroughly wash your hands, instruments, and clothing before contacting poultry and pet birds
– Do not handle birds that appear to be sick or are found dead
– Wear rubber gloves when field dressing birds
– Do not eat sick birds
– Cook meat to an internal temperature of 165°F
– Report dead or sick birds to state or federal wildlife agencies