A Nichols Worth Of Nature

Donnie Nichols
County Reporter
Perhaps you are aware through recent television, radio, and numerous print articles of the devastating effects of this year’s avian bird flu. Tens of thousands of domestic poultry have been euthanized in attempts to prevent the further spread of this deadly pathogen.
Dr. Victoria Hall, DVM, MS, is the executive director and veterinary epidemiologist of The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. She and researchers have documented infections in 51 species of wild birds of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) due to the 2021-22 outbreak. This is more than twice the number of species known to have been infected during the 2014-15 outbreak of HPAI. 
Researchers know most about how the HPAI works and how it presents in wild aquatic birds, gulls, terns, shorebirds and waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans). Recently the virus is showing up in bluejays and crows, too. Unfortunately there are lots of gaps in knowledge about H5N1, this year’s strain of HPAI.
It is important to remember all bird species are potentially susceptible to HPAI but how they show or do not show signs of illness and the role they play in carrying and spreading the disease will vary.
The virus is shed in the feces and respiratory secretions of infected birds and is very hardy with particles able to survive in the environment for weeks in cool damp conditions.
Because the science is unclear on the role of songbirds in this current outbreak, one consideration is not to encourage birds to gather together at places such as bird feeders and birdbaths. These are places where viruses could easily be exchanged between individuals. Consider pausing the use of feeders and birdbaths until the temperatures warm up. The virus transmission dramatically decreases during hot weather. I took all my feeders down two weeks ago and probably won’t put them up again until the end of May.
Raptors are especially impacted by HPAI. Janet Haselrig, avian ecologist and head of Missouri Department of Conservation’s Eagle Watch Program sent an email documenting at least six bald eagles that have been found dead in Missouri. Also, some nests with eggs or eaglets have been abandoned resulting from HPAI.
Symptoms in infected birds are often tilted heads, lethargy, inability to fly or erratic flying, perching low to the ground and no fear of people.
Of the three nests Kim and I monitor, we have one nest that the parents were erratic in incubating often not sitting on eggs, resulting in no chicks being hatched. The good news is the other two nests both produced 2 eaglets that are about to fledge.
I would encourage you to take down your feeders for awhile. We have it in our power to take a short term action so we are not accidentally assisting in the spread of this virus.
“One reason that birds matter - ought to matter - is the they are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding. They're the most vivid and widespread representatives of the Earth as it was before people arrived on it.”  -Jonathan Franzen