A highly contagious avian flu that is deadly to bird populations on farms and in zoos has been confirmed in several wild bird species across Wisconsin, the state Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday.
This strain of “highly pathogenic avian influenza,” called EA H5N1, has already resulted in the euthanizing of nearly three million chickens on a farm in Jefferson County. The continued spread of the virus in Wisconsin could threaten birds in zoos, pet birds, and the egg and poultry industry. The strain is not as dangerous for the wild birds that spread it, according to researchers.
Dane County’s Vilas Zoo closed its bird exhibits last week because of the outbreak.
On Thursday, the Department of Natural Resources said the strain has been found in a Cooper’s hawk and bald eagle from Dane County, a lesser scaup from Columbia County, a red-tailed hawk from Grant County, a Canada goose from Milwaukee County and a trumpeter swan from Polk County.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center had previously found preliminary evidence of wild birds in Wisconsin being positive for the virus. Those suspicions were confirmed on Wednesday and Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory.
The first known case of the highly pathogenic avian influenza was discovered March 14 at the Jefferson County chicken farm where a few million chickens were euthanized to prevent further spread. The case was discovered by UW-Madison researchers with the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
This strain of the virus has not been spreading to humans, but could lead to the euthanizing of millions of birds across the U.S., likely raising prices in the egg and poultry industry, according to the researchers. The lab is working to identify cases and control the spread. The DNR is also increasing efforts to identify cases.
Vilas Zoo is taking extra precautions to protect its penguins, flamingos, chickens and sandhill cranes. Most have been moved inside to the aviary, which is closed to the public. Flamingos are still visible through a viewing window. The sandhill cranes have been moved to a local animal hospital.
Vilas Zoo spokesperson Kristin Moala said the bird flu is mainly spread through waterfowl, which Dane County has a lot of because of the lakes. The virus could get tracked into the zoo on people’s shoes, she said.
The DNR is asking residents to call if they see waterfowl, raptors such as eagles, or avian scavengers such as crows, ravens and gulls displaying tremors, circling movement or holding their heads in strange positions. Residents are also asked not to touch sick or dead birds.
Anyone can report birds with signs of avian flu by emailing [email protected] or calling 608-267-0866.
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A bald eagle takes flight in December 2021 from the branch of an oak tree at Olin-Turville Park, along the open-water shoreline of Lake Monona. Researchers just discovered bird flu in a bald eagle from Dane County, as well as other bird species across southern Wisconsin.
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