WATERTOWN, S.D. (KELO) — The avian flu that’s ripping through commercial and backyard poultry flocks in parts of the U.S. is taking a toll in South Dakota too, and it’s killing more than turkeys and chickens.
It’s also hit many wild birds in South Dakota, including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, great-horned and snowy owls, as well as snow geese, Canada geese, lesser scaup and other native species.
That’s according to Chad Switzer, the wildlife program administrator in the state Division of Wildlife. He briefed the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission on Friday.
Switzer said the current outbreak is “much different” than seen in 2008 and 2015 when there was “minimal” wildlife mortality. All birds can be vectors, but transmission generally occurs from wild birds to domestic, according to Switzer.
He noted this one comes as snow geese migrate north to nesting grounds and showed the commission a short video of an infected Canada goose. The state Game, Fish and Parks Department staff hasn’t been able to pick up all the dead wild birds that have been reported, including instances of some dropping from the sky.
More than 30 turkey farms in South Dakota have been affected, Switzer said. He’s not concerned yet about wildlife populations. “But time will tell,” he said.
South Dakota’s spring hunting season for snow geese is under way. Switzer said the department sent emails directly to all of the licensed waterfowl hunters.
“Obviously a lot of things are not in our control,” he acknowledged.
Switzer said the department is working with the South Dakota Animal Industry Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s APHIS offices, as well as the head veterinarian for Dakota Provisions, a Huron-based turkey operation.
The department has been fielding calls from producers asking how to better protect their flocks of domestic birds, and at the same time bringing in propane cannons and other pyrotechnics to help keep away wild birds such as migrating geese, Switzer said.
Samples have been sent to the South Dakota State University diagnostic laboratory at Brookings as well as the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, and the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
Switzer said department staff can’t pick up every dead wild bird that’s reported but are removing them when numbers of them wash up against boat ramps and campgrounds. He said each report is documented.
Based on history, warm weather could help shut down the outbreak. Switzer said the virus doesn’t seem to survive or spread when temperatures reach 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.