Spread of bird flu prompts zoos to hide birds; wild bird populations monitored | Science

As bird flu continues to spread across North America, local zoos, poultry farms and birdwatchers are taking extra precautions.

Also known as bird flu or bird flu, the disease was detected in North America in December 2021. The H5N1 subtype, which is not known to cause human illness, was found in a farm in exposure of the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. As of January 2022, several species of wild birds in the United States had also tested positive for the strain.

The outbreak reached Indiana in February, first confirmed in a commercial turkey farm in Dubois County. Since then, bird flu has spread to six commercial turkey operations in Dubois and Greene counties. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resourcesa total of 171,224 commercial turkeys have tested positive, although DNR data has not been updated since March 2.

The disease occurs when birds are infected with avian influenza A viruses, which occur naturally in waterfowl. Waterfowl often act as hosts for disease, but do not always fall ill. The virus is highly contagious, often spreading to domestic poultry and raptors, according to the DNR.

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Birds excrete the virus through their feces and nasal secretions. Experts say it can be spread through contaminated equipment, clothing, boots and vehicles carrying supplies. Research has shown that small birds sneaking into zoo exhibits or buildings can also spread the flu, and mice can even follow it indoors.

Although no zoo in the country has had to close, nearly 23 million chickens and turkeys have already been killed in the United States to limit the spread of the virus. It would be particularly upsetting for zoos to have to kill one of the endangered or threatened species in their care.

Brad Bumgardner, executive director of the Indiana Audubon Society, said the organization is monitoring the outbreak, with particular emphasis on its impact on wild birds. Bumgardner said USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services has taken samples from wild birds in areas near infected farms, so far none have tested positive for the H5N1 subtype.

“It is rare for songbirds to become infected with this strain of avian flu,” Bumgardner wrote in an email to The Times. “However, if the landowner is concerned about wild birds, domestic fowl or a neighbour’s backyard flock, we support whatever the landowner decides, which includes removing their feeders until that he has no more worries.”

Bumgardner noted that the Indiana Audubon Society does not recommend owners remove their bird feeders at this time, but encourages increased cleaning.

Zoos across North America are also moving their birds indoors and away from people and wildlife. Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo has closed its McCormick Birdhouse and moved all outdoor birds to “hidden spaces” as a precaution against the highly contagious bird flu, according to public relations and communications coordinator Sabrina Cynova .

“The zoo has a long history of studying urban wildlife and, as always, will continue to monitor these birds for any unusual activity or signs of illness,” she said Wednesday.

The majority of birds at the Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City are already kept in enclosures that prevent direct exposure to wildlife, but birds “that don’t have the proper cover” have been moved inside the zoo said zoo director Jamie LeBlanc-Huss.

“We are monitoring this situation very closely to prevent the birds in our care from becoming infected, especially since the Washington Park Zoo is located along the migratory routes of many species of wild birds,” said LeBlanc Huss.

The DNR has asked Indiana residents to report sick or dead wildlife to at.IN.gov/sickwildlife.

Times writer Bob Kasarda and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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