Two wild birds test positive for avian flu in a first for the Yukon

The Yukon is the latest place to be hit with avian flu cases as an outbreak continues to spread across the country. 

The Yukon is the latest jurisdiction in the country to see wild bird flu cases in nation-wide outbreak

Cathy Stannard, co-owner of Mandalay Farm, said it would be difficult to replace the birds she would lose if there was a case of the avian flu in her flock. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

The Yukon is the latest place to be hit with avian flu cases as an outbreak continues to spread across the country. 

Officials from the department of environment said in a press release Friday that two waterfowl carcasses in southern Yukon tested positive for the H5N1 virus strand. 

Avian flu is a highly contagious disease, spread by migratory wild birds, that causes severe illness and death in birds. In rare cases, the virus can spread to humans and other mammals like pigs, cats and dogs. 

The disease has already made its way through flocks in the provinces, killing hundreds in its wake. 

"Livestock farmers and Yukoners who own domestic birds need to protect their birds from this virus," the department said in the news release, adding that includes backyard hens and pet poultry, as well as commercial poultry farms.

Kristenn Magnusson, Yukon's acting program veterinarian, said this is the first time the avian flu has ever made its way to the territory.

"I mean, it's something that we're always aware of," Magnusson said. "It's something that's always circulating, just like human flu is always circulating." 

Yukoners can look for a few signs and symptoms in their birds to see whether they are infected, Magnusson said, like decreased egg production for chickens, a lack of energy and swelling around the neck or eyes. 

The influenza has a near 100 per cent death rate for an entire flock of birds once its detected, Magnusson said. 

There are a few advantages, she continued, to how spread out the territory's poultry farms are. 

"We are a vast territory so we don't have super high density production like what happens in some major centres," Magnusson said. 

Egg-laying chickens at Mandalay Farm in Yukon. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Cathy Stannard, the co-owner of Mandalay Farms outside Whitehorse, said she isn't surprised to see that cases have made their way to the territory. 

She said if a bird in her flock were to contract the virus, it would be a struggle to replace them. 

"It's not as if we could pick up the phone and say, 'do you have any birds for us?'" she said. "It doesn't work like that." 

Stannard said she's been keeping her chickens inside, instead of letting them roam free, since hearing the news. So far, her flock is healthy so it shouldn't affect their local egg sales. 

The Yukon government is asking residents to report sightings of sick or dead birds to their TIPP line at 1-800-661-0525. 

The government said in the press release that if the influenza does spread, compensation would be available for the birds that pass away. 


Anna Desmarais is a videojournalist for CBC North based in Whitehorse. Before that, she spent two years as the South Slave correspondent based in Hay River, N.W.T. She's also reported from Yellowknife, Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto and Kathmandu. Reach her at or @anna_desmarais.