FWP suspects bird flu in local geese; three grizzlies around state

Avian influenza was detected in Montana last spring and is continuing to affect domestic and wild birds, according to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

A number of dead geese have been spotted in the Missouri River in and around Great Falls and they’re suspected to have died from the disease, according to FWP.

“Cold weather is helping to preserve the carcasses and keeping these waterfowl mortalities noticeable for longer periods of time,” according to FWP.

Bird flu detected in more birds in Cascade County [2022]

Dave Hagengruber of FWP told The Electric that the agency was testing birds in the spring and summer and bird flu was detected then.

He said the agency collected a few more last week that are being tested now since they want to confirm again that the disease is ongoing here, though that’s their assumption.

Hagengruber said the birds are not being collected off the ice due to the danger of venturing onto the ice.

It is possible for both birds and mammals that scavenge on the dead waterfowl or any other infected birds to become infected themselves, Hagengruber said.

Bird flu confirmed in Cascade, Judith Basin counties [2022]

The virus is shed through oral and nasal secretions and also through the feces of infected birds so while Hagengruber said he hasn’t seen it documented as being spread through feces, he recommends keeping cats and dogs away from any birds and their droppings.

There have been no reports of human infections from the bird flu strains recently detected in the U.S., according to FWP, but people and pets should avoid contact with sick or dead wildlife and gloves should be worn if handling a dead animal for disposal.

Bird flu is “a viral disease, and there is no treatment, so although its sad to watch it impact birds, there really isn’t anything that can be done.  As ice recedes and more open water appears, hopefully the birds will disperse into lower densities, and that may slow the spread of the disease,” Hagengruber said.

More information is on FWP’s website.

FWP said Jan. 17 that three juvenile grizzly bears tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza virus this fall.

“The three bears, one near Augusta, one near Dupuyer, and another near Kalispell, were observed to be in poor condition and exhibited disorientation and partial blindness, among other neurological issues. They were euthanized due to their sickness and poor condition. These were the first documented cases of HPAI in grizzly bears. A fox and a skunk in Montana also tested positive for HPAI last year, and the virus has been found in raccoons, black bears and even a coyote in other states and countries,” according to FWP.

FWP wildlife veterinarians suspect the bears got the virus from eating infected birds, according to a release.

Avian influenza is a naturally occurring virus in birds and the viruses are classified into two groups based on the severity of disease they cause in infected poultry. Low pathogenic viruses generally cause no clinical illness or only minor symptoms in birds. Highly pathogenic viruses are extremely infectious and fatal to poultry and some species of wild birds, according to FWP.

FWP staff would like to know about unusual or unexplained cases of sickness and/or death of wild birds and animals by calling their local wildlife biologist or the wildlife lab in Bozeman at 406-577-7880 or 406-577-7882.