In mid-October, WildCare admitted a Canada Goose from Corte Madera with vision problems.
The bird had wandered into an intersection, where the crossing guard on duty attempted to escort him across the street.
A passerby saw the difficulties the crossing guard was having with the wandering goose and, recognizing that the bird wasn't acting normally, she helped corral the bird, and brought him to WildCare's Wildlife Hospital.
This Canada Goose became the first bird to test positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in Marin County, where WildCare is located.
WildCare has been preparing for HPAI since mid-July when the virus was first detected in California. It is considered low risk to humans, but it is highly contagious and deadly to certain birds, including waterfowl (ducks and geese), domestic poultry, pelagic and near-pelagic birds (like pelicans and gulls), vultures, raptors (hawks and owls), and corvids (crows and ravens).
To prepare for the virus's inevitable detection in our area, and to protect our educational Wildlife Ambassadors and our other Wildlife Hospital patients, this past summer we closed our Courtyard to the public, restructured our intake and care protocols, implemented strict requirements for foot coverings, gowns and masks, and relocated our intake exam area, putting the initial triage of wildlife patients in an outdoor enclosure to reduce potential exposure to existing patients.
Fortunately, our new protocols worked!
During this goose’s intake exam, WildCare’s Veterinarian, Dr. Juliana Sorem, noted retinal edema, a less-common but indicative symptom of the disease. She and other Medical Staff were kitted out in proper protective equipment, and the bird's exam took place in the quarantined outdoor triage area, so what turned out to be our first avian influenza victim was detected without risk of disease exposure for the other animals in our care. There is no cure for HPAI, it is incredibly contagious between birds, and symptoms can be devastating, so the bird was humanely euthanized and sent for testing.
The goose was submitted to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Health Lab, and preliminary testing was performed at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab at UC Davis. On October 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the detection of HPAI in the Canada Goose.
What does the detection of HPAI in our county mean?
We don't yet know. Other wildlife care centers across the country have seen wide variation in the impact of this disease on wild birds in their areas.
The Minnesota Raptor Center admitted hundreds of raptors with the virus between March and October of 2022, including 89 Great Horned Owls and 47 Bald Eagles. The virus is nearly 100% fatal to raptors, so this level of intake was devastating. See more HPAI statistics from the Minnesota Raptor Center here.
Other organizations have seen a massive influx of geese and ducks, and there are many reports of massive die-offs of waterfowl due to the virus.
Because of the San Francisco Bay Area's location on one of the major migratory paths for birds (the Pacific Flyway), the advent of HPAI in our region will mean migratory birds of dozens of species will be exposed. We don't yet know how many will die.
Learn more about what you can do to help wild birds and prevent the spread of HPAI below!
*NOTE*: WildCare is accepting Wildlife Hospital patients as usual, 9am - 5pm, seven days a week. Intake will be done at the front gate. Please wear a mask during the intake process.
To safely rescue a wild bird without potentially spreading HPAI:
Please follow these guidelines to prevent the risk of spreading HPAI between birds. These steps are especially important if you have backyard poultry. It is important to prevent the spread of HPAI to your rescued wild bird, and to keep your chickens, ducks or turkeys safe.
Note: These measures are to keep birds safe. The HPAI virus is considered to be low risk to humans, but please consult your doctor or CDC guidelines if you have concerns.
1. HPAI (avian influenza) is considered low risk to humans, but it is always recommended to wear gloves and/or use a towel or blanket when rescuing or handling any wild animal. Be careful to not wrap the animal too tightly, and do not place the animal in a container still wrapped in a towel or blanket. Overheating is a real danger for rescued birds. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.
2. Rescuers should call WildCare’s Hotline at 415-456-7283 before bringing a rescued bird to WildCare, so we can direct them as to current intake protocols. With HPAI now confirmed in Marin County, our protocols may change. The rescuer should be ready to give us details such as the species of bird, and where the bird was found.
3. Ideally, WildCare prefers to not accept at-risk birds from outside of Marin County at this time. All rescuers outside of Marin County should call us at 415-456-7283 so we can help them find the best option for their rescued bird.
4. Anyone with pet birds and/or poultry at home, should not take a wild bird into their home. If you have backyard poultry (chickens, ducks or turkeys), change your clothes before and after rescuing. Your clothing could transfer the virus from your birds to your rescued animal, or from the rescued bird to your poultry. Change your shoes BEFORE you come to WildCare.
5. Place the animal in a disposable container like a cardboard box. Make sure the container has air holes already in it. Put a small towel or paper towel on the bottom of the container to prevent slipping. Bring the animal to WildCare as soon as possible.
6. Questions? Call our Living with Wildlife Hotline 415-456-7283.
We at WildCare are saddened at the continued spread of this disease, which is deadly to birds and some mammals, and the impacts it will have on our beloved local wildlife.
The virus is shed in bodily fluids and fecal matter, and can easily be transferred between birds through direct contact (bird to bird), or indirect contact with people and other animals, or objects like water, clothing, shoes, even vehicles that are contaminated with virus particles .
How can you help prevent the spread of HPAI?
1. Be extremely careful if you have domestic chickens, turkeys or ducks. To prevent spreading the virus, there must be no contact between domestic birds and wild birds. Ensure that your domestic birds' food and water are not accessible to wild birds, and keep your flock in a covered coop or run. The California Department of Food and Agriculture recommends moving domestic poultry indoors. Remove bird feeders and bird baths if you have domestic poultry. Have a set of clothes and, most importantly, a change of shoes that you wear ONLY to interact with your birds. Domestic fowl can both harbor and die from the virus, so preventing cross contamination between your animals and wildlife will help keep all of them healthy. Check with your veterinarian for additional information on protecting your birds, and preventing the spread of HPAI.
2. Do not feed waterfowl at ponds and lakes, and change shoes after visiting areas with populations of geese and ducks. The virus spreads easily on surfaces, so your visit to your local pond, lake or lagoon could mean your shoes and even your vehicle tires have become fomites (an inanimate object or substance that is capable of transmitting infectious organisms from one individual to another) that can spread avian influenza between birds.
2. Although many songbirds do not seem to be heavily impacted by HPAI, corvids like crows and ravens, and raptors are. WildCare is only too aware of the risks of disease transmission at locations where birds congregate, including bird feeders. For this reason, WildCare and many of our partner organizations are currently recommending that people please take down bird feeders and bird baths until further notice.
3. Report sick and dead wild birds to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife using their online Mortality Reporting Form here.
4. Donate to WildCare. Protecting both our resident Wildlife Ambassador animals and the thousands of avian patients we admit to the Wildlife Hospital is a daunting task! Your donation now will help us handle the advent of HPAI, and be ready for the next emergency when it arrives. Thank you.