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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks warns bird hunters in to be vigilant of bird flu

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Posted at 2:42 PM, Oct 10, 2022

BILLINGS - The bird flu was rampant during the spring but after a lull during the summer; Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) thinks that there could be a surge again now that fall has hit.

And it’s something that bird hunters should be on the lookout for.

Back in April three turkeys were found dead near MSU Billings.

Six months later, the bird flu is still around, and cooler weather means cases could spike yet again and affect a sport many love; bird hunting.

"Avian flu can be found in all sorts of bird species. We’ve found it in raptors, so, many of those predatory bird species. We’ve also found it in a number of different wild bird species, including waterfowl and wild turkeys. And then it’s also present in domestic birds. That includes domestic turkeys and chickens, that sort of thing. It’s really present in a whole host of bird species, both wild and domestic," said FWP spokesperson Chrissy Webb.

Charles Noland — a long-time veterinarian and bird hunter of 60 years — says waterfowl have been most susceptible to the virus.

"The current one is transmitted primarily by waterfowl. It's highly lethal in geese, especially snow geese and Canadian geese. Ducks seem to live with it so, they’re the primary carriers and spreaders of the disease. But all birds are ultimately susceptible," said Noland.

With another hunting season now upon us, it raises the question of the risk, not only to man, but man’s best friend as well.

"Influenza viruses can jump from species; they can go from one to another. This one is highly contagious among birds and highly fatal among certain species of birds. But it doesn’t seem to transport easily to mammals," added Noland.

However, Webb does suggest exercising caution and mentioned people shouldn’t feed raw meat from wild birds to their dogs.

As for people, there’s only been one confirmed case in a human over the past year. A poultry worker in Colorado.

She says that while the risk to hunters is low, they should still be on the lookout for dead birds or birds that don't seem to be acting normal.

"If you find a bird or have a bird in your possession that has randomly died. We do advise you to protect yourself if you have to handle that dead bird. So, wearing gloves or using a plastic bag to pick up that bird and dispose of it," added Webb.

If you kill a bird, Noland says "don’t leave any remains in the field" which is the best way to keep other birds and dogs safe.

"I think the main precaution is in disposal of the non-edible parts. I think they’re best incinerated because we know that will destroy the virus. If you just dispose of things in the field and it has the virus then there’s the potential to continue the infection when another animal comes upon that part," Noland said.