Montana Wildlife Officials Warn of Bird Flu This Waterfowl Season

by Amy Myers
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

After a cautious spring waterfowl season, Montana wildlife officials reported that bird flu is once again a pressing concern for hunters.

In April, Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) staff discovered three dead turkeys near MSU Billings and confirmed that these birds died from avian flu. Over the summer, the disease seemed to have faded away, but now that the weather is getting colder, bird flu cases have started to appear again.

Unfortunately, according to Charles Noland, a local veterinarian and bird hunter of 60 years, waterfowl are the most susceptible to the flu.

“The current one is transmitted primarily by waterfowl. It’s highly lethal in geese, especially snow geese and Canadian geese. Ducks seem to live with it so, they’re the primary carriers and spreaders of the disease. But all birds are ultimately susceptible,” Noland told KTVQ.

Of course, the main concern is whether the disease can be transmitted to hunters, but there’s often another species involved in the sport – our dedicated bird dogs. Luckily, Nolan explained that mammals aren’t as vulnerable to bird flu.

“Influenza viruses can jump from species; they can go from one to another. This one is highly contagious among birds and highly fatal among certain species of birds. But it doesn’t seem to transport easily to mammals,” Noland said.

For humans, there’s only been one confirmed case of bird flu this year so far, according to Chrissy Webb, acting communication and education manager at FWP region 5. So, the risk of contamination is still relatively low.

Montana Officials Urge Hunters and Residents to Be on Lookout for Birds Experiencing Flu Symptoms

Even with the low case numbers, Noland stressed still using caution with downed waterfowl. Your pooch can still retrieve the bird, but he advised against feeding the dog any raw meat. Another vital way to prevent the spread of the disease is to report any suspicious behavior or sudden death of waterfowl and other birds throughout the state.

“If you find a bird or have a bird in your possession that has randomly died. We do advise you to protect yourself if you have to handle that dead bird. So, wearing gloves or using a plastic bag to pick up that bird and dispose of it,” added Webb.

It’s also crucial to pack out any animal remains when you go bird hunting. That way, there’s less of a chance that the virus will spread to other birds or mammals.

“I think the main precaution is in disposal of the non-edible parts. I think they’re best incinerated because we know that will destroy the virus. If you just dispose of things in the field and it has the virus then there’s the potential to continue the infection when another animal comes upon that part,” Noland said.