National avian flu outbreak detected in Utah wild birds for 1st time

A photo of a great horned owl in Utah’s wild taken in 2018. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said a great horned owl found dead in Cache County died from the avian flu breakout across the country. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A great horned owl found dead in Cache County last month died from a growing avian influenza outbreak, marking the first confirmed case in wild Utah birds since the outbreak began in January, state wildlife officials said Wednesday.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is now calling on people to report possible signs of the flu in wild birds, such as five or more dead waterfowl or shorebirds, or any individual scavengers or raptors found dead in the state.

“(People) should report it to the nearest DWR office and absolutely make sure not to touch the birds or pick them up,” said Ginger Stout, the division’s veterinarian. “Just report it to us, and we will come collect them for testing. We are continuing to monitor this virus in wild bird populations.”

The flu was first detected in South Carolina in January and has since spread to dozens of states. Its impact on domestic birds has impacted some grocery prices in recent months because farmers have had to kill off millions of infected hens. There has only been one confirmed case of the flu in humans but it remains a low risk overall.

It was already suspected to be spreading among wild birds in Utah after the disease was first found in the state on April 15. There’s been a handful of other cases found in domestic birds since then, indicating that the birds were infected through contact with wild birds .

The Tracy Aviary and Hogle Zoo are among the Utah zoos that have taken precautions in recent weeks to protect their birds. Stout said the virus typically doesn’t impact overall waterfowl populations, but she believes there will be more cases among ducks, geese and other wild birds.

“It’s likely that we will have some die now that it’s been confirmed in wild birds in the state,” she said.

She added that songbirds are not typically affected by avian flu, so residents don’t have to really worry about removing bird feeders, unless they have chickens or domestic ducks in their backyard, since those birds are susceptible to the virus. It’s recommended that people regularly clean bird feeders and baths regardless of the flu’s status.

Anyone who finds a group of dead waterfowl or a dead raptor is encouraged to call the Utah division at 801-538-4700 of their local DWR office.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He’s a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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