By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
After 78 wild birds died at the Ocean Lake Wildlife Management Area In Central Wyoming, game biologists are trying to determine if bird flu killed them.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department agents Tuesday found 77 dead mallard ducks and an “afflicted” Canada Goose at Ocean Lake southeast of Pavillion near the Wind River Reservation, the agency reports. The goose was euthanized.
A particularly bad outbreak of avian influenza, or bird flu, this year has been killing domestic poultry, as well as some wild birds across the United States and around the globe. The virus is suspected in the mass waterfowl death at Ocean Lake, Game and Fish’s Lander region wildlife supervisor Jason Hunter told Cowboy State Daily.
But that can’t be confirmed until test results on the birds’ carcasses come back from the agency’s wildlife health laboratory, he said, and that could take up to two weeks.
Avian Pandemic Continues, Hunters Not Worried
Overall, there haven’t been any dramatic changes in Wyoming’s bird flu situation, said Michael Pipas, a wildlife disease biologist with the USDA Wildlife Services.
He also told Cowboy State Daily that he didn’t know any specifics about the Ocean Lake bird deaths.
The Ocean Lake area is a known “stopover” point for waterfowl that migrate through Wyoming from Canada or other U.S. states, Hunter said.
Calls inquiring about possible bird flu outbreaks among waterfowl in Montana and Nebraska to game agencies in those states weren’t returned Wednesday.
Earlier this year, there was some concern that bird flu might have spread into Wyoming’s raptor population.
However, some Wyoming waterfowl hunters and hunting guides said they aren’t particularly worried about the disease dampening their hunting opportunities, threating their health or that of their clients.
Low Risk, But Caution Needed For Humans
The strain of bird flu circulating can potentially infect people, but is still listed as a low risk to human health, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
The Game and Fish Department is recommending precautions, Hunter said.
Some of those include keeping away from birds that appear to be sick or the carcasses of those found dead. Also, waterfowl hunters should wear gloves when plucking or gutting the birds they’ve killed and make sure that duck or goose meat is thoroughly cooked before eating it.
In light of the Ocean Lake bird deaths, “we want to get the word out,” Hunter said. “Even though nothing is confirmed yet, we need to be cautious.”