"Since about May 25, crews have been seeing multiple species showing what we believe are signs of highly pathogenic avian influenza. The signs we are seeing widespread is a headshaking that we equate to "getting the cobwebs out", like a person may do when they first wake up. This behavior occurs regularly every couple minutes. This behavior has been observed in: black brant, cackling geese, bar-tailed godwits, dunlin, lapland longspurs, spectacled eiders, emperor geese, greater white-fronted geese, sabines gulls, glaucous gulls, and red-necked phalaropes."
Observation by Bryan Daniels:
As a Waterfowl Biologist for Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge I operate and collaborate in a handful of research camps on the Yukon Delta. There have been 2 camps on the coast since early May, and multiple more camps deploy this first week of June and instructed to assist in collecting information so we can disseminate what we know. There appears to be much fewer nesting birds thus far. Both active camps are reporting finding roughly 50% of the number of nests during all previous years, and report a lot of birds in flocks loafing around.
Since about May 25, crews have been seeing multiple species showing what we believe are signs of highly pathogenic avian influenza. The signs we are seeing widespread is a headshaking that we equate to "getting the cobwebs out", like a person may do when they first wake up. This behavior occurs regularly every couple minutes. This behavior has been observed in: black brant, cackling geese, bar-tailed godwits, dunlin, lapland longspurs, spectacled eiders, emperor geese, greater white-fronted geese, sabines gulls, glaucous gulls, and red-necked phalaropes.
More extreme symptoms of head waving, disorientation, wandering or swimming in circles, and lack of fear of people. This has been seen in sabine's gulls, glaucous gulls, cackling geese, and black brant.
We have also found dead birds of multiple species and 1 dead fox- all suspected to have died from avian influenza and are on their way to be tested and confirmed. Most dead birds found on land are curled up as if sleeping. The exception are the gulls or geese that die in the water- they are splayed out as one would expect.
We have been doing outreach via KYUK radio on Yukon Delta on the Yup'ik talk line, our facebook page, and in tribal consultations whenever possible. We wanted to post to LEO network to get the information to a wider audience to determine if others are seeing the same phenomenon.
LEO Editor Comment:
LEO Network has been monitoring the outbreak of HPAI across Alaska and the continent through observations like this one, taking the opportunity to raise awareness and connect with agency partners in a collaborative One Health approach. Avian influenza (flu) is very serious for birds, but very low risk for people. The USFWS, State of Alaska, and the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council recently put out a fact sheet (attached) which provides the following advice for bird hunters and gathers:
Do not harvest game that appears sick or are found dead.
Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves when handling and cleaning game.
When done handling game, wash hands thoroughly with soap and disinfectant, disinfect knives, equipment and surfaces that were in contact with game.
Do not eat, drink or smoke when handling game.
Cook game (and eggs) thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees (F).
Note: dogs are at low risk for avian flu, but it is advisable to prevent them from eating sick or dead birds.
This observation has been shared with local, state, and federal health and wildlife agencies. Mike Brubaker
Comment by Eric Taylor:
We are watching the situation on the Yukon Delta very carefully and will continue to get updates. I have a crew of biologists that arrived on the Yukon Delta yesterday to conduct a long-term, multi-day, multi-area nest plot survey.
We'll have a better idea of potential effects of HPAI on nesting (initiation, distribution, abundance and productivity) for a variety of species including cackling geese, emperor geese, greater white-fronted geese and spectacled eiders.
Comment by Andy Ramey, USGS:
Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a specific type of ‘bird flu’ that may cause severe disease or death among infected wild and domestic birds. North America is experiencing a geographically widespread outbreak of highly pathogenic avian in both wild and domestic birds. As of 1 June 2022, there have been 24 confirmed detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Alaska reported by the Office of the State Veterinarian as part of the ongoing outbreak, most of which have been identified in wild Canada geese or bald eagles. Characteristic signs of highly pathogenic avian influenza in these species have been lack of coordination and death. I strongly encourage anyone witnessing abnormal bird behavior, such as walking or swimming in circles, head shaking, or paralysis to submit their observations with detailed location information to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Sick/Dead Bird Hotline (1-866-527-3358). Follow up investigation and diagnostic testing are important for confirming or ruling out of infection of birds with highly pathogenic avian influenza. Guidance on best practices for the handling and preparation of hunter-harvested wild birds can be found on websites maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional information on how the current outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza pertains to human health and safety is available from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
Comments by Angela Matz, USFWS:
The Alaska Sick/Dead Bird Hotline is receiving calls from people throughout the State - from Southeast to the far north. If you call, please give as much detail as possible about your observation, such as latitude, longitude, and specific location description; behavioral observations of the bird(s) or a positive confirmation of mortality; the species or type of bird; and the time and date of your observations. The person who answers the phone will ask you other questions to get a better idea of what you saw. Please note that the response is determined on a case-by-case basis, and may not include collection of all sick or dead birds reported. If we cannot collect the birds, we will work with the caller to determine a path forward. Some of the criteria that will guide the response are bird species, number of individuals, time since the observation was made, current condition of the carcass(es), and location. Please understand that resource agency personnel may be unable to respond to some reports from remote areas before sick or dead birds are scavenged.
Comments by Kimberlee Beckmen, ADFG:
If fox or other wild mammals are seen behaving abnormally or found dead, please report these to the ADFG. You can also email email@example.com or call the ADFG office in the region to report.