“This is real”: Colorado’s iconic birds are being killed by historic bird flu

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Dec. 19—For Jeff Travis and his guiding outfit on Colorado’s southeast plains, the hunt for an iconic, winged migrant has been different this season.

Travis, who owns Outwest Adventures out of Lamar, Texas, said that the snow geese behave completely differently.

Sometimes, he said, the birds will just be standing alone in the field — or trying to stand. He will see them shake and sway, with their heads tilted back as if about to fall. Travis says they don’t seem to be bothered by any approaching hunter.

“You’ll just drive along and see a goose on the side road. He says, “You see them in the ditch.” “They are not right.”

The sheer number of juveniles is also a rarity for him. Numerous juveniles arrive from their northern breeding areas in large numbers.

Travis says, “I don’t have the science, but it sure appears like the adults getting killed off.”

The killer is not well-known.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 53,000,000 birds died from highly pathogenic bird influenza in the U.S., making 2022 the worst year since 2014-15 for this disease also known as the bird flu.

It is easier to track the impact on domestic and commercial poultry. Wild birds are less likely to be affected. The CDC’s estimate of 4,000+ infected is not reliable. There have been reports of snow geese deaths exceeding 1,000 in various waterways and reservoirs across the U.S.

The geese, beloved for their spectacular outliflights, have been particularly hit in North America’s flyways. Photographs and videos of terrible scenes have been taken all over southern Canada, the Great Plains, including fields, ponds, and lakes that are covered with white, motionless birds.

According to Travis Duncan, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, more than 1000 snow geese were found dead in Colorado’s northeast plains. He estimated that 600 people died at John Martin Reservoir, in the southeast.

This followed what Duncan said were increased reports in late November of sick and dead snow geese from field personnel and hunters — suggesting the flu was still ravaging the species after a deadly spring.

Duncan stated that the latest Colorado die-offs are “likely historic highs.”

He also said: “Keep it in mind that there have been a lot of snow geese in eastern Colorado over the last couple of decades.

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Duncan stated that death rates in waterfowl (e.g. ducks or geese) “does not appear to be excessively high,” but he acknowledged that “the situation could change during the winter.”

Jeff Colwell of Front Range Guide Service of Windsor is worried about the situation. Colwell, a native of northern Colorado said that he has witnessed a “population explosion” of snow geese along Colorado’s Front Range in recent decades.

Colwell stated, “It seems that this is how the flu spreads through the white ones.” “Now they’re eating together (with other bird), they’re congregating.”

Beyond that, he expressed concern about his future. He is worried about the possibility of large-scale mortality, which he and his guides witnessed during their snow geese hunts this spring in Nebraska.

“I’m at the stage where it’s like, continue to run hunts?” Colwell agreed. Colwell said, “I have made it clear to all my guides that we must inform clients about this fact and then let them make their own decisions.”

Clint Roth, another guide in northern Colorado said that he wasn’t too worried about it yet. He has noticed fear in others.

Roth stated that it has scared some men out of hunting and caused them to stop.

People contracting the disease are extremely rare. According to the April public notice, one Coloradan tested positive for influenza after he had been exposed to infected poultry. The patient was able to recover after “fatigue for several days.”

Parks and Wildlife suggests that hunters wear personal protective equipment when handling and cleaning game. They also recommend that they thoroughly clean all knives and hands.

Duncan stated that Parks and Wildlife will continue to monitor the spread of the disease. This is done by collecting field samples and receiving reports from the public. He advised citizens to contact their local CPW offices if they discover three or more dead birds in an area within two week, or if they notice signs of the disease.

These signs include birds becoming too comfortable upon approaching, stumbling, shaking, and swimming in circles.

In a news release, Todd Schmidt, CPW wildlife manager, stated that birds can become infected without showing any symptoms.

This adds to Colwell’s concern.

He said, “I’m seeing thousands of geese fly around today, and they all seem fine.” “But does it seem that some of them have it?” Maybe.”

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