A deadly new strain of bird flu hasn’t arrived in Alaska, but local wildlife officials are on the lookout
The first domestic case of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, was first detected in the southeastern United States in January. It has traveled as far west as Colorado since then, and spring migration season means it is likely on the move.
“With birds moving south to north this time of year, there’s a chance they could end up in Alaska, so we need to stay alert,” said Robin Corcoran, bird biologist at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. .
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk to humans is low, but more than 24 million birds have died so far in the continental United States. It is the second deadliest bird flu outbreak in the country since 2015, when 50 million birds died. To be fair, most of these reported deaths came from commercial poultry producers culling their flocks of chickens, geese and other livestock species to prevent further spread.
But the virus has had a mortality rate of around 90% for small backyard flocks. During a virtual bird flu update last month, Alaska state veterinarian Dr. Bob Gerlach said bald eagles, mallards and other wildlife had also been hard hit.
“It’s a unique variety,” Gerlach said. “And we see neurological signs as well as mortalities in wild birds, so it’s a bit different.”
Corcoran said that in places like Kodiak Island with large, vibrant bird populations, it may not be that unusual to find a dead bald eagle on a beach. But anything out of the ordinary should be reported.
“We’re also on the lookout for these unusual mortality events, so if we see a large number of carcasses, say five or more, that’s the kind of thing we want the public to report to the fisheries department and of Alaska Game, the state agencies or the Department of Fish and Wildlife,” Corcoran said.
Residents and their pets should avoid touching any dead birds they find. Hunters should also be on the lookout and report any birds that may be coughing and sneezing or showing any other signs of illness.