Watching for avian flu this bird hunting season

No big impact on the bird population for hunters so far
Hunters being advised to watch for sick birds or signs of the disease
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 6:02 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - While not as popular as deer season, hunters are still gearing up for this waterfowl season for ducks, geese, and other birds. Despite that, Francis Skalicky with the Missouri Department of Conservation says the season still has its devoted followers.

“You get an opportunity to put meat on the table that you can’t buy in the store,” says Skalicky. “It’s also a camaraderie thing. You’re hunting with people - friends and relatives, perhaps - that you haven’t hunted with since last duck season. You also get out in the outdoors, and you get to realize how great Missouri’s outdoors are.”

With that in mind, the avian flu has already taken a toll across the United States, with 49 million birds in 46 states dead from the virus or culled due to exposure from infected birds. While not on the scale of monitoring chronic wasting disease among the deer population, the Department of Conservation is tracking the progress of avian influenza in the state of Missouri. With only four counties in Missouri showing signs of the disease in the wild bird population, it’s encouraging news for Skalicky and hunters.

“We have had positive IDs of avian influenza at some of our waterfowl areas,” Skalicky states. “It hasn’t impacted hunting to the extent that we’re seeing fewer ducks and geese flying through this year.”

While that is good news, Skalicky and the Department of Conservation want hunters to watch for any sick birds or birds that may be showing signs of avian influenza. The department’s website lists tremors, head tilting, lethargy, loss of coordination, inability to fly or walk properly, or trouble standing upright as symptoms of the virus. Some birds may show these symptoms if they have the virus, while other species won’t. For hunters, Skalicky’s advice is simple.

“If they observe an animal - whether it be a duck, a goose, a deer, or whatever - that seems to be sick, don’t harvest that animal,” says Skalicky. “There are other healthier animals out there.” Plus, Skalicky encourages hunters to call their local Missouri Department of Conservation office if they see sick birds or birds with possible signs of avian flu. “All we’re doing with that information is tracking areas where we’ve actually seen sick birds. Our experts are looking for it. Our biologists are looking for it. If someone sees possibly sick waterfowl, call the local conservation department staff and we can take it from there.”

For safe dressing and handling, Skalicky and the Department encourage hunters to wear gloves while handling any birds. After handling, wash your hands and tools with either soap and water or an alcohol-based disinfectant. Proper cooking any game to an internal temperature of 165° will kill any viruses and make the meat safe to eat.

We have links here and here for more avian flu safety tips, tracking and other information for hunters.

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