The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission confirmed four more wild birds have died with highly pathogenic avian influenza in different areas of the state, adding to a previous report of a single bird discovered by federal officials in December.
The most-recent discoveries involved a snow goose that was collected by staff at the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in Hyde County and a redhead duck in Carteret County. Both were observed with neurological signs consistent with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Commission staff also found a red-shouldered hawk dead in Wake County and a dead bald eagle in Dare County, according to a commission statement.
HPAI is a highly contagious disease that often is fatal for chickens and turkeys and poses a serious threat to the poultry industry. Outbreaks in poultry farms in Maryland, Iowa and Missouri have killed millions of birds in recent weeks, according to the USDA.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center initially tested the goose and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study detected the avian influenza virus in the other birds before the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, confirmed HPAI in all of the samples.
It’s unclear exactly when the birds were discovered.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced in late January a northern shoveler harvested by a hunter in Hyde County on Dec. 30 tested positive for HPAI. That duck, collected through an ongoing USDA surveillance program, was among the first wild birds in the U.S. to have Eurasian H5 HPAI since 2016.
HPAI deaths also occur in wild birds, particularly raptors that eat waterfowl, as well as scavenger birds. Wild waterfowl typically do not exhibit signs of the disease, and risk of transmitting HPAI to humans is low, according to the commission.
“If someone comes across a mortality event involving five or more waterbirds or waterfowl, or a mortality event of any size for raptors or avian scavengers, including crows, ravens and gulls, we want to know about them,” commission biologist Sarah Van de Berg said. “We are particularly interested in morbidity events involving any number of those same bird species that are observed with clinical signs consistent with neurological impairment, like swimming in circles, head tilt and lack of coordination.”
Officials want the public to report the unusual wild bird behavior through the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 or by email to HWI@ncwildlife.org.
The commission recommended hunters take extra precautions offered by the USDA to protect themselves from HPAI, such as rubber gloves when cleaning birds; refraining from eating, drinking or smoking while cleaning game; keeping harvested birds away from pet birds; as well as other recommendations on cleaning equipment and cooking game birds.
All bird deaths from HPAI, in both wild and captive birds, are tracked by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the results are available for public view on the service’s website.