First spring case of bird flu confirmed at Raptor Center

Bird Flu Response

Bird Flu Response

After a few-month break, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has returned.

Tuesday, The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota confirmed its first case of the bird flu since January.

Raptor Center officials say the adult female red-tailed hawk was admitted to the center’s hospital on March 25 and was tested for HPAI. Unfortunately, the bird died overnight and the test later came back positive for the bird flu.

According to The Raptor Center, the virus is very deadly in eagles, hawks, owls, vultures, and falcons, and many more cases are expected again this spring. Last year, The Raptor Center cared for more than 200 HPAI-positive birds, officials say; only one survived.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health (MBAH) also confirmed HPAI in Le Sueur County this week – this case involved a backyard flock of mostly chickens and some ducks and geese.

“It’s just a matter of when it would have returned,” Michael Crusan, public information officer with the MBAH, said.

Crusan said while it’s been months since the last confirmed case, these recent ones are still part of the bird flu outbreak that started in 2022.

According to the animal health board, the outbreak has impacted 111 sites and has resulted in the killing of more than 4,200,000 birds to help stop the spread.

Still, the MBAH says the state is in a good position compared to the thick of the outbreak and that the new cases should serve as a sign to be vigilant.

“It’s that red flag [poulty handlers] are waiting for, the red flag that says, ‘I know it’s out there, now I really need to get on my defense and stand up a good defense to keep that virus out,’” Crusan said.

In the world of protecting poultry, that defense is called biosecurity and includes steps as minor as washing hands before and after handling poultry to not sharing equipment and vehicles between multiple properties.

“What we do as people can literally stop that introduction [of HPAI] into a barn, or a yard, or a coop,” Abby Schuft, extension educator with the University of Minnesota, said.

Schuft’s main focus is being the go-between with university researchers and those who handle poultry – it’s a job that was borne from the major bird flu outbreak in 2015.

“We are bringing university resources to the people who can use them,” Schuft said.

One of the key improvements with the current outbreak is the reduction of people transmitting the disease. A key difference is the number of at-home coops involved in the outbreak – in 2015, only one was involved. The state animal health board says they’ve been part of 25% of the current outbreak.

While the state feels good about where things are, those close to poultry farmers say they’re anxious for what’s to come.

“For the most part, both turkey and chicken growers in the state of Minnesota are very nervous right now,” Dr. Jill Nezworski, poultry veterinarian at Blue House Veterinary, said.

“We’re seeing a lot of migratory waterfowl start to move into the state as the snow is melting, and folks are nervous,” Nezworski added.

Whether or not the poultry is sick, Nezworksi does monthly checks at the farms she works with – she too says now is the time to prepare, no matter the size of operation.

“I take it personally, to make sure we have every action step in place to prevent introductions of influenza and to keep my growers economically and mentally healthy for the future,” Nezworski said.

The animal health board said poultry producers and backyard flock owners should contact their veterinarian immediately if they see any signs or symptoms in their flock:

  • Extreme depression
  • Very quiet
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decrease in feed or water intake
  • Swelling or purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb, wattle, and hocks
  • Decrease in egg production
  • Sudden, unexplained death

The Raptor Center is asking anyone who finds a raptor in need to call it at 612-624-4745 before interacting with it.