SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Avian flu is not over and now, migration of wild birds is kicking in.

“Migratory season is always a concern for us,” said Jason Ramsdell of the Dakota Layers egg farm near Flandreau.

Wild birds, including waterfowl, are carrying HPAI or avian flu. When they migrate they can carry bird flu to other wild birds and domestic flocks. If they die, birds such as raptors may feed on them. Feces from an infected bird will spread the virus.

Avian flu has been detected in 58.6 million domestic birds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Affected means the birds have died because they die from the flu or because they are euthanized once the flu is detected. The flu can spread rapidly among birds.

As of March 22, there is a total of 3.9 million birds in 62 affected commercial flocks and 15 affected backyard flocks in this outbreak in South Dakota, according to the USDA.

One of the most recent cases of bird flu was a domestic flock of 570 pheasants in Spink County on March 22. The flu has been detected in 98 wild birds in South Dakota, according to the USDA. The state had its last case before March on Dec. 20 when 31,800 turkeys were lost in a commercial flock.

Avian flu viruses will infect wild birds as they mix and match and morph into different strains. Often wild birds will not be as impacted, Strategic Veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson said.

But, “this virus seems to be so much more lethal,” Thompson said.

“I don’t that in, at least in the tracking of this in history, we have seen the virus (as impactful). This one virus has infected the whole planet,” Thompson said.

Whether the strain is as lethal as it was in the last spring or this past fall is uncertain, Thompson said. “Whether or not it is a lethal, we will find out in the next couple of months,” Thompson said.

Watching the sky for migrating flocks

Ramsdell uses a website to watch the birds on a daily basis.

“You are keeping an eye out for large flocks moving through,” Ramsdell said. “It’s scarier yet when they land a few miles from the farm.”

The longer a flock hangs around, the greater the chance avian flu can be spread, Ramsdell said.

Over the past several days, flocks of snow geese and geese have been gathered near the Missouri River near Yankton and similar areas with open water in southeastern South Dakota.

Kyle Kelsey, a biologist with the U.S. Department Fish and Wildlife office in Madison, said the waterfowl are feeding and waiting for conditions to improve before flying farther north.

Ramsdell said he’s also seen sparrows and robins returning to the area.

While those wild birds may not be primary carriers of avian flu, those birds may pick up a waterfowl feather to use in a nest, he said. They can get avian flu from that feather.

Lasers and other ways to keep domestic flocks safe

Biosecurity at domestic poultry sites is strong, Thompson said.

“We don’t know how many times good biosecurity has kept the virus out of barns,” Thompson said. “I’d be willing to be (producers) have done a really good job of keeping it out.”

Ramsdell said no matter how tight the security, there is still a chance of infection. He lost a flock to avian flu in December.

Still, he and other producers continue to practice stringent biosecurity measures. Those measures include not traveling on roads near water waterfowl have landed. There are strict guidelines of how people and trucks enter farms.

Dakota Layers also has a free range flock on a site. Those layers will be housed indoors during migration as needed, he said.

“We’ve added lasers to keep birds from landing,” Ramsdell said. The laser lights keep many types of birds from landing on the farm.

That’s a measure he wouldn’t have thought of as needed 10 years ago.

A fast migration?

Ramsdell is worried that snow cover and lack of open water will slow down migration.

Thompson said she’s optimistic that once the snow clears and there is more open water, the pace of migration will increase.

Kelsey said typically, waterfowl want to get to their nesting sites in Canada as quickly as possible.

In the past, waterfowl such as snow geese, have skipped large chunks of South Dakota if they’ve been delayed in the southern part of the state, Kelsey said.