Avian Influenza on the Rise

by Carole Jorgensen

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) has noted an increase in the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), commonly known as bird flu and pigeon paramyxovirus, a naturally occurring virus that has also been documented in Montana recently. The National Audubon Society has previously discussed impacts of HPAI. The latest map of occurrence in the United States can be found on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-2022/2022-hpai-wild-birds). Pigeon paramyxovirus (also referred to as Newcastle disease) affects primarily doves and pigeons. Introduced European collared doves have been competing with our native doves. Both species can be affected by the pigeon virus and the additional impacts on our native populations are unknown at this time.

Precautions for both diseases continue to be:  

  • Avoid feeding pigeons and doves at this time.
  • Clean and disinfect any feeding/watering devices regularly.
  • Do not pick up sick or dead birds. Be aware of sick, staggering or other flu symptoms. Symptoms of infected birds include weight loss, diarrhea, problems breathing, twisted head and difficulty flying. Diarrhea is green.
  • Watch your pets to ensure they don’t pick up sick or dead birds.

Transfer of these diseases to mammals are rare, but if your pet displays weakness, vomiting/difficulty breathing or other flu-like symptoms, contact your vet as soon as possible.

Using gloves, any dead birds should be disposed of in sealed plastic bags into the trash. MTFWP would be interested if five or more dead birds are found in one location, especially if near domestic fowl. If you collect dead birds, use gloves (and masks) and a sealed plastic bag. Avoid contaminating your hands or other surfaces. In such cases, contact your local MTFWP.