FILE – Great horned owl. Photo courtesy of Morgan Jacobsen and Division of Wildlife Resources.
LOGAN — The first case of bird flu in a wild bird was recently confirmed after a dead great horned owl tested positive in Cache County. The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus had already been confirmed in commercial and backyard chicken populations, as well as at Zootah in Cache Valley. More than a million birds had to be de-populated at a commercial egg factory in Cache Valley while the discovery at Zootah prompted an immediate quarantine of the zoo at Willow Park.
According to the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), a great horned own was found dead in Cache County on April 29th. The owl was sent to the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Logan for testing and then sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa for further testing, which confirmed the wild bird had the virus.
Since that initial owl, five additional great horned owls have been found dead in Cache and Weber counties and DWR is awaiting their test results.
HPAI viruses are very contagious among birds and can cause rapid and high mortality in domestic birds, such as chickens, turkeys and domestic ducks. These viruses occasionally kill wild birds, as well. The most common wild birds impacted by the virus are typically waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and scavengers. There are typically few symptoms in waterfowl and shorebirds, but the virus can kill raptors and scavengers quickly. The virus is spread among birds through nasal and oral discharge, as well as fecal droppings. It can be spread to backyard poultry and domestic birds through contaminated shoes or vehicles.
“If anyone finds a group of five or more dead waterfowl or shorebirds or any individual dead scavengers or raptors, they should report it to the nearest DWR office and absolutely make sure not to touch the birds or pick them up,” DWR Veterinarian Ginger Stout said. “Just report it to us, and we will come collect them for testing.
“We are continuing to monitor this virus in wild bird populations. It typically doesn’t have much of an impact on the overall populations of waterfowl, but it’s likely that we will have some die now that it’s been confirmed in wild birds in the state.”
Songbirds are not typically affected by avian flu, so people shouldn’t have to remove bird feeders unless they also have backyard chickens or domestic ducks, which are susceptible to the virus. However, it’s always recommended to regularly clean bird feeders and baths.
Although the current strain of the avian flu presents a low risk to people, it has been confirmed in at least one person in Colorado during this most recent outbreak. Visit the CDC website for more information on keeping yourself safe.
For more information about the current avian flu outbreak, visit the DWR website.