Wildlife agencies urge precautions against bird flu
Dead ducks found on Grand Manan being tested
Wildlife agencies in the region are warning people not to touch any birds found sick, injured or dead.
A highly pathogenic strain of avian flu — H5N1 — has been detected in wild and domestic birds in nearby jurisdictions, the Atlantic Wildlife Institute says.
Signs of infection in birds include lack of energy, decreased egg production, bleeding, swelling and a high and sudden mortality rate, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The viral infection spreads easily in birds and has no treatment.
Infection in humans is rare, according to Health Canada, and does have treatments, but it can also be deadly.
Worldwide, said the federal Health Department, 350 deaths have been attributed to H5N1 since 2003 — in countries that had outbreaks in poultry.
Cases of bird flu have recently been found in Nova Scotia, as well as in Newfoundland and the northeastern United States, noted the Atlantic Wildlife Insititute, which is based in Cookville, N.B., near the Nova Scotia border.
The charity wildlife sanctuary and emergency rescue service said it is not accepting any new wild birds at this time to protect its current avian patients.
"Anyone touching or handling wild birds should be aware of the potential for spreading the disease among birds," it said.
There is no word on any confirmed cases of avian flu in New Brunswick.
However, ducks found dead on Grand Manan in the past week are being tested for it, said the Canadian Wildlife Service, a branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Samples will be analyzed as quickly as possible.
"We are very interested in determining the cause of this mortality event," said department spokesperson Cecelia Parsons.
Staff from the federal environment department were at Seal Cove on Tuesday and collected remains of 100 common eiders, said Parsons.
Three of the birds had been banded:
- one in Fosterville, Que., in 2016
- one in Rivière-du-Loup, Que., in 2017
- and one in Table Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador, in 2009.
That followed the discovery of 32 dead eiders in the same area of Grand Manan last week.
It's the largest winter mortality event for the species that Al Hanson knows of. He's the head of aquatic assessment for the Canadian Wildlife Service in the Atlantic Region and he's based in Sackville, N.B.
Besides diseases such as avian flu, there are a number of other potential causes of something like this, he said.
A few of them include starvation, severe weather or environmental toxins.
The eider population has fallen significantly in recent years, said Hanson.
As a result, he said, daily harvest limits were reduced two years ago in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Waterfowl experts from Canada, the U.S. and France met to talk about potential causes in December 2019.
They initiated two large studies, said Hanson, but have no conclusions yet.
One study is looking at large-scale environmental change in the bird's range across Maine, Atlantic Canada and Quebec, for possible correlations between population numbers and things such as ocean warming.
The other is putting satellite transmitters on common eiders to examine their seasonal distributions, the habitats they're using, their ability to breed successfully and potential sources of mortality.
One of the birds they put a transmitter on last year is now wintering off Grand Manan, noted Hanson.
A lot of the dead birds found this week were adult males, he said, but the information you can get from carcasses is limited because they're quickly scavenged by black-backed gulls.
Followup work is planned in the area, he said, to focus on live birds.
The Grand Manan archipelago is an important wintering area for common eiders, said Hanson. Their prime food source is blue mussels, he said.
Hanson doesn't expect to have a definitive answer about what's causing the population decline any time soon.
"Like a lot of things related to population change and environmental conditions, it's very complicated," he said.
"It might be multifaceted across the range of common eiders."
But the avian flu test results should be back in relatively short order, he said.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Atlantic Wildlife Institute are both asking anyone who finds a dead or ailing bird to report it.
In New Brunswick, the agency to call is the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, housed at the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island.
Its contact number is 1-800-567-2033.
Additional avian flu precautions are advised for people who have domestic birds, especially if those birds have access to the outdoors and bodies of water.
The federal Environment Department is urging owners to try to minimize contact between their flocks and wild birds.
With files from Maritime Noon and Raechel Huizinga