Medicine River Wildlife Centre is waiting to see if avian influenza strikes again in central Alberta and kills more birds and wildlife this year.
British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture has already reported that eight skunks found dead in residential areas of Vancouver and nearby Richmond, B.C., in February were infected with the same H5N1 strain that has caused the deaths of millions of domestic poultry since the outbreak began in April 2022.
Medicine River’s executive director Carol Kelly said avian flu patients at the centre were mostly of geese, ducks, owls, some peregrine falcons and a few ravens. But it also spilled over to skunks and fox.
She said it’s too early to tell what will happen this year.
“At this point we just have to be very aware. When the geese start migrating back and the ducks, we just have to watch everyone that comes in for any kind of symptoms,” said Kelly who is on the lookout for birds with milky-looking eyes, are emaciated, or appear to have seizures.
“If there are any questions whatsoever, they go into the quarantine room first. We are just really grateful we have that quarantine room.”
She said during a typical winter 25 to 30 owls are brought to the centre for treatment, but in recent months only four came in because there were so few owls in the area. Overall the centre treated about 400 fewer birds and mammals last year.
“We think it’s because there were so many dying. We saw complete families of great horned owls dead on the ground.”
She said it was horrifying to see wetlands around the Red Deer area, and as far away as Stettler, utterly empty of waterfowl, but some wetlands east of Wetaskiwin were filled, so the flu seemed to hit pockets of populations.
Small song bird populations have not been impacted by avian flu.
Since the outbreak began, B.C.’s Agriculture Ministry says 20 species of wild birds have been infected with avian flu in that province.
Kelly said if spring doesn’t bring a new wave of the flu, wildlife will instinctively have larger clutches or litters to fill the void.
— with files from The Canadian Press