Birders watching for migrating waterfowl, including the trumpeter swan pictured above, can learn about avian flu during a presentation next month in Homer.
File photo by M. Scott Moon
Nestled among dozens of presentations and workshops to be featured during the upcoming Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer is a talk about bird flu and what it means for Alaska.
Normally the festival, which runs this year from May 4 to 7, offers educational opportunities on bird identification, preferred birding optics and coastal ecology.
This year, with the global concern about Asian H5N1 avian influenza, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a discussion on the current scientific effort to monitor birds and detect H5N1 in Alaska.
In literature promoting the shorebird festival, Alaska is described as the “most likely location (for the bird flu) to occur in North America” because the state is a crossroad where migratory flyways of Asia and North America overlap.
The state Department of Fish and Game is quick to point out, “to date, H5N1 has never been found in Alaska or anywhere in North America,” and so far, no one has caught it from a wild bird.
“I can’t imagine any threat for bird watchers,” Bruce Bartley, public information officer for Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation, said Monday.
He said last year Fish and Game took thousands of samples from birds, tested them and found no H5N1 influenza at all.
“This year, we will take tens of thousands of samples and have meetings particularly with subsistence hunters,” Bartley said.
“Even if we find a case, it would not be cause for a huge panic,” he said.
The H5N1 bird flu virus has been around for nine years and Bartley said, so far, 200 people have come down with the disease, about 120 have died and of those, most of the victims were people “who actually lived in houses with infected chickens.”
He said if bird watchers find a single dead bird on the beach, there is no reason for concern.
“Finding a dead bird on the beach is not a difficult thing to do,” he said.
“If someone finds one dead bird on the back porch or under a power line, we’re not going to send someone out.
“If I see a number of the same kind of birds in the same state of decomposition, I’ll be concerned,” he said.
Fish and Game officials ask that if anyone does find a number of sick or dead birds, and no obvious cause is apparent, they should call 1-866-5-BRDFLU.
Bartley said he would not do anything different this year than in previous years.
“If you find a dead bird or several dead birds, don’t handle them. Don’t pick them up,” he said.
In a press release, Fish and Game said, “These are common-sense practices that should be used whether Asian H5N1 makes an appearance or not.”
Anyone who handles birds, such as bird hunters, should practice good hygiene, wearing gloves and washing their hands frequently.
Hunters should keep their birds clean and cook them thoroughly.
For more information, people should visit the Fish and Game Web site at www.avianflu.alaska.gov.
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