Hand-feeding of chickadees banned near Saskatoon as avian flu spreads

As a virulent strain of avian flu spreads, the Beaver Creek Conservation Area has banned the hand-feeding of chickadees for now. 

Authorities will reassess as more information becomes available

A chickadee at Beaver Creek last week. (Katriona Mitchell/Twitter)

As a virulent strain of avian flu spreads, the Beaver Creek Conservation Area has banned the hand-feeding of chickadees for now. 

"This situation will be monitored and Meewasin will make changes once experts declare it is safe to offer seed again," a release from Meewasin Valley Authority reads, in part. 

The area is known for the friendly birds, and many in the area will photograph the birds eating seed from their hands.

Jamie Harder with Meewasin Valley Authority said normally the flu doesn't enter into the wild bird population as much, or with such a high death rate.

The concern is that if it does, at-risk species like whooping cranes or sage grouse may not be able to recover.

"It's just making ... the experts a little bit more concerned that some of the populations that are lower in numbers might not be able to handle it," Harder said.

She added that the populations at Beaver Creek are generally healthy and have good numbers, but they do have some there that are endangered.

While the risk of transmission of avian influenza to humans is low — there are no known cases of transmission in North America — people should not touch dead birds or other wildlife with their bare hands.

"With our pandemic we're [supposed] to be six feet apart," she said.

"That kind of idea is just the more that touch surfaces again and again with different birds that yeah, you're potentially helping to spread that."

Harder said the way the virus is behaving in wild birds creates a lot of unknowns about the future.

"We don't know what's going to happen with migration, is it going to have more and more impact on birds that maybe it didn't have an impact on?" she said. 

Harder has been with Meewasin for about 20 years, and said she is not aware of another time where this measure was taken.

A case in a commercial poultry flock was reported on Saturday in Manitoba, and cases in wild birds continue to pile up across the country. 

With files from CBC Manitoba


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