Bird flu kills 3 California condors; no more cases pending

Bird flu kills 3 California condors;  no more cases pending

Update, April 13: Condor Crisis Deepens; 18 dead in three weeks

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed as the cause of the deaths of three California condors found in northern Arizona, according to wildlife officials. The Arizona-Utah population moves through northern Arizona and southern Utah, using the landscape of Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Kaibab Plateau and surrounding areas. To date, the virus has not been detected in other condor populations in California or Baja California, Mexico.

On March 9, the Peregrine Fund, which manages the Arizona and Utah condor flock, observed a bird in the wild for the first time showing signs of illness, initially suspected to be lead poisoning. . Crews continued to monitor this bird and others with similar behavior. On March 20, they recovered the deceased female from under her nest, which was the first bird confirmed positive for HPAI.

Upon collection, the bird was sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory for an autopsy to determine the cause of death. The Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory analyzed samples and preliminary results indicated the bird was positive for the HPAI H5N1 subtype. The positive result was confirmed by the National Veterinary Service Laboratory of the United States Department of Agriculture on March 30.

As of April 4, a total of three deceased birds have been recovered and confirmed positive for HPAI. Test results are not yet final for five other deceased birds. Others have been collected and are awaiting autopsy and testing; information will be provided once test results are available.

Additionally, five birds showing signs of illness were captured by The Peregrine Fund and sent to Liberty Wildlife in Phoenix for treatment. One of the birds died shortly after arrival. The other four are in quarantine while samples are tested for HPAI. Any additional live or deceased condors collected in Arizona and Utah will be treated as suspected cases of HPAI. Live birds will be transferred to appropriate facilities for care.

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As of December 31, 2022, the global condor population was 561 birds. The free-flying wild population was 347. The Arizona-Utah population numbered 116 individuals – the highest of any region.

Condors face multiple stressors

California condor populations face multiple stressors, such as exposure to lead shot and habitat degradation, which have reduced population resilience. To address the growing threat of HPAI, coordination is underway with avian influenza experts, veterinarians, and tribal, state, and federal partners throughout the condor’s range. California condor recovery partners are mobilizing resources and taking preventative action to protect wild birds from HPAI. Throughout the condor’s range, day-to-day activities continue, such as captive breeding and monitoring breeding and nesting sites.

Potential exposure to HPAI is expected to increase during the spring migration of birds north to their breeding grounds. HPAI has been detected in all US states except Hawai’i in wild and domestic animals.

HPAI is considered a low-risk human health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control; however, infections in humans have been reported. HPAI is highly contagious in wildlife and can spread rapidly through several routes, including bird-to-bird contact, contamination of the environment with feces, and through exposed clothing, footwear, and vehicles. To protect people and birds, it is important to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Ways to help

  • If you see a condor with any of the following signs of illness in Arizona or Utah, please contact The Peregrine Fund at 585-747-5885. Signs include lethargy, incoordination, appearing dull or unresponsive, holding the head in an unusual position, and walking in circles.
  • Please follow the advice below to help limit the spread of the virus and avoid bird-human contact:
    • To report dead or sick animals, please contact your national wildlife agency.
    • Keep your family, including pets, a safe distance from wildlife.
    • Do not feed, handle or approach sick or dead animals or their droppings.
    • Always wash your hands after working or playing outside.
    • Prevent contact of domestic or captive birds with wild birds.
    • Leave young animals alone. Often the parent animals are nearby and will return for their young. For advice on orphaned or injured wild birds, please contact the nearest wildlife rehabilitation centre, national wildlife agency or local land management agency.
    • The USDA also has biosecurity tips for people who raise backyard poultry.
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Emergency donations requested

The Peregrine Fund, involved in condor recovery for decades, has issued an emergency donation request. The request specifies:

“Almost immediately, our team in Arizona, led by Program Director Tim Hauck, amplified efforts to remedy this situation, up to and including the recovery of birds from the formidable canyonlands of northern Arizona and southern from Utah. Our field biologists are currently monitoring individual birds for symptoms and collecting sick or deceased birds for necropsies.

“While the goal of our work is to recover this critically endangered species through captive breeding, release and monitoring, this emergency requires increased and intensified human resources and equipment to protect this critical population. This is an all-hands-on-deck effort. Partners like Zion National Park are already supporting this emergency effort by rappelling from 250-foot cliffs to retrieve condors. This arduous and dangerous work requires more resources on the ground right now, and other needs will continue to develop.

Thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for providing this news.

Update, April 13: Condor Crisis Deepens; 18 dead in three weeks