Avian flu responsible for thousands of dead birds in Newfoundland, suggest preliminary tests

The common murre, razorbills, gannets and great black-backed gulls have all been found dead due to avian flu, says the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Common murres, razorbills, gannets and great black-backed gulls have all been found dead

This photo of a gannet colony was taken by Chris Mooney at Bird Rock in Cape St Mary's on July 17. Preliminary testing shows the Cape St. Mary's seabirds died from avian flu. (Chris Mooney/Submitted by Bill Montevecchi)

Preliminary test results migratory seabirds that have been washing up by the thousands on Newfoundland's Avalon and Burin peninsulas suggest the cause of death was avian flu, says the Canadian Wildlife Service.

The most common species being found is the common murre, according to Becky Whittam, the manager of wildlife and habitat assessment for the federal government division's Atlantic region, but razorbills, gannets and great black-backed gulls are also dying.

In May, thousands of northern gannets from a colony in the Magdalen Islands died of the highly pathogenic H5N1 flu and washed up along Newfoundland, Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

Whittam said the recent seabird deaths seem to be linked to seabirds breeding in Newfoundland along Cape St. Mary's and other seabird colonies as well. 

The preliminary results are from samples sent to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative in Prince Edward Island, she said. Samples have now been sent to the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg.

Whittam said it's difficult to say how high the death toll will go. She said the Canadian Wildlife Service is working with the provinces and federal government to track carcasses on beaches and to assess the impact on seabirds. 

The Canadian Wildlife Service's Atlantic region habitat manager says gannets are one of the populations being affected by avian influenza. (Radio-Canada)

"It is a very large-scale mortality event," Whittam said. "We're working hard to collect data."

Next week, the Canadian Wildlife Service hopes to do aerial surveys of gannet colonies in Newfoundland to assess the impacts, she said. 

Keep pets away from dead seabirds: Canadian Wildlife Service 

If people come across dead seabirds, Whittam said, it's important to report them to the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Emergency Line. Do not handle the dead birds and keep pets away from them, she said, as foxes have tested positive for avian flu in P.E.I.

"We don't know if dogs can get avian influenza, but it's certainly better to be safe than sorry," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Heidi Atter

Mobile Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. She has worked as a reporter, videojournalist, mobile journalist, web writer, associate producer, show director, Current Affairs host and radio technician. Heidi has worked in Regina, Edmonton, Wainwright, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email

With files from Todd O'Brien and The Broadcast