Health authorities suggest that if the cause is avian flu, there is very little risk to walking dogs in the area.
After receiving multiple reports from residents, fish and wildlife authorities will be testing local fowl to see if they died from avian flu.
Beginning on Friday, Bonnyville residents and those who use the Jessie Lake trail have noticed dozens of dead waterfowl along the shores and trail itself, and have reported their findings to the local Fish & Wildlife biostation.
Dr. Margo Pybus is a provincial wildlife disease specialist. She told Lakeland Connect on Monday that the Bonnyville office collected a few of the dead fowl that will be sent away for testing, along with field observations, and video.
“These are eared grebes. So she collected a few that are in her freezer that we will bring in for testing for avian influenza,” said Dr. Pybus.
“People are quite concerned about these birds and are reporting them. But it all seems to be the same situation where they’re the eared grebes, and we suspect avian influenza, but we won’t know for sure until we get the test results back.”
Eared grebes are identified by the tufts of feathers on their head that appear like ears and are closely related to ducks.
Dr. Pybus estimates that it could take a couple weeks before they get an accurate answer on whether avian flu is the cause of these deaths.
The avian flu outbreak has been “massive” this spring with it being detected in poultry in the County of Two Hills in early May and in the County of Vermilion River in non-poultry in late April.
But the outbreak has been widespread from the Atlantic to the Pacific in both Canada and the United States. While the majority of the outbreak is declining, it has caused mortality in bird groups that it never has before.
“Normally, it’s been a risk for poultry. But this is the first time in North America that we’ve seen this mortality in wild birds and it’s widespread,” said Dr. Pybus, who notes that local populations of red-tailed hawks, great horned owls (adults and chicks), and crows are being hit hard. Typically, dying of it after scavenging on the infected dead birds.
“The little birds that we call the songbirds are not involved in avian influenza, so it’s largely waterfowl, primarily geese with this spring, and then anything that eats those geese.”
While the true nature of these dead birds is unknown at the moment, if avian flu is the cause, there is little risk to the public and residents walking dogs in the area.
“We take our lead from the health authorities, so the public health people say that there is no particular risk associated with these with the avian influenza, it really doesn’t infect people. The messaging to the public has been avoid direct contact, that if you have to move a bird wear gloves, mask is optional, double bag and put it out in your garbage or push it around with a shovel, that sort of thing. There really is no risk beyond anything that would be applied to dead wildlife from unknown causes,” said Dr. Pybus.
“If your dog eats a lot of these, then they may get something, but not to worry if they do indeed sniff around with their nose or anything like that.”