The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is urging bird hunters to keep an eye out for signs of bird flu (H5N1).
Officials said the rate of positive detections of the virus has slowed, but they have seen a recent uptick in reports of wild bird die-offs, neurologically abnormal wild birds and HPAI detections.
Certain duck and goose hunting seasons start on Sept. 1 throughout Michigan and more dates are coming up this winter. The DNR wants all hunters to be observant and careful when harvesting and handling wild birds.
Bird flu is considered widespread in wild bird populations throughout Michigan. Dabbling ducks are most commonly infected waterfowl, but geese, swans shorebirds and other species can also be infected.
“Avian influenza or ‘bird flu’ is caused by viruses that infect both wild and domestic birds. Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses can severely affect the health of domestic birds, wild birds and, sometimes, humans and other mammals,” said Megan Moriarty, the state wildlife veterinarian with the DNR .“As Michigan waterfowl hunters get out in the fields and marshes this season, we want them to know there is a lot they can do both to help prevent the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza and to keep themselves, others and our bird and wildlife populations safe.”
Where did bird flu come from?
In late 2021, a Eurasian strain of the virus was introduced into North America.
Cases have been confirmed in domestic birds, wild birds and wild mammals throughout most of the United States and Canada.
It was first detected in Michigan on March 15, 2022. Since then, Michigan has confirmed around 150 cases in wild birds and mammals.
This strain of illness has caused extensive illness and death in a range of wild birds. In particular, waterfowl, raptors and avian scavengers such as vultures, gulls and terns have been affected.
Wild birds can be infected with the virus and show no signs of illness. They can carry the disease to new areas when migrating, which could potentially expose domestic poultry to the virus.
The DNR does not anticipate any serious impact to Michigan’s waterfowl populations.
Can humans get it?
Yes. While it primarily affects birds, it is a zoonotic disease and can potentially pass from domestic or wild animals to humans.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the public health risk associated with HPAI remains low, but advises people to avoid handling any sick or dead wild birds.
Safety guidelines for hunters
The DNR issued the following safety guidelines for hunters:
- Harvest only waterfowl that act and look healthy. Do not handle or eat sick game.
- Field dress and prepare game outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
- Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game.
- Remove and discard intestines soon after harvesting and avoid direct contact with the intestinal contents.
- Do not eat, drink, smoke or vape while handling carcasses.
- When done handling game, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water (or alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable), and clean knives, equipment and surfaces that came in contact with game. Wash hands before and after handling any meat.
- Keep waterfowl cool (either with ice or refrigeration), below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, until processed, and then refrigerate or freeze.
- Thoroughly cook all game to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating it.
What you can do to protect domestic birds
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said poultry owners should minimize the number of people coming in contact with their birds and isolate their birds from wild birds when possible. You should also disinfect your hands and clothing after coming into contact with poultry.
Michigan officials also recommend the following steps:
- Prevent contact between domestic and wild birds by bringing them indoors or ensuring their outdoor area is fully enclosed.
- Wash your hands before and after handling birds as well as when moving between different coops.
- Disinfecting boots and other gear when moving between coops.
- Do not share equipment or other supplies between coops or other farms.
- Cleaning and disinfecting equipment and other supplies between uses. If it cannot be disinfected, discard it.
- Using well or municipal water as drinking water for birds.
- Keep poultry feed secure to ensure there is no contact between the feed/feed ingredients and wild birds or rodents.
What are the signs of HPAI?
There may be an absence of many of the routine signs of illness in domestic poultry, according to the DNR.
One of the major indicators of HPAI is sudden death and high death losses. Sick birds may show neurological signs like difficulty walking, lack of appetite, low energy, or lack of vocalization.
You might notice a significant drop in egg production, swollen combs, wattles, legs, or head. They could also have diarrhea, nasal discharge, sneezing, or coughing.
Ducks and geese are considered carriers, but geese generally do not pass on bird flu.
How to report a sick bird
Domestic bird owners should watch out for unusual deaths, a drop in egg protection, a decrease in water consumption or an increase in sick birds. If you suspect your birds have bird flu you should contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 (daytime) or 517-373-0440 (after-hours).
If you see any unusual or unexplained deaths among wild birds you can report those to the DNR through the Eyes in the Field app (select observation forms) or by calling 517-336-5030.
“It just takes a few minutes, but each report about birds and animals that are sick or appear to have unexplained deaths, especially in clusters, is a tip that often can lead to valuable information about a wildlife community,” Moriarty said. “We appreciate every effort to share those observations. While every bird or animal will not necessarily be tested for HPAI, all such observations are important and contribute to our understanding of this outbreak.”