Hunters asked to report dead waterfowl
Carlyle, Ill. — Ducks and geese found dead on popular waterfowl hunting sites this winter led DNR to issue alerts to spring goose hunters about methods for handling birds.
“Snow goose hunters should be aware of the potential presence of avian cholera,” a DNR media alert warned in early March. “Dead waterfowl found at sites along the Illinois River and at Carlyle and Horseshoe Lakes earlier this winter have tested positive [for the disease].”
All in all, the number of dead birds was relatively small, and most of the birds affected were lesser snow geese. But greater white-fronted geese and some ducks also were found dead.
As for avian cholera, it is caused by bacteria that can spread from bird to bird. Biologists say it poses a low risk to people and pets, but proper handling of waterfowl by hunters is recommended.
DNR indicated that the dead birds were discovered around the holidays and into early January. The brief outbreak apparently ended when a warm spell ended and the weather turned colder.
Hunters were alerted because temperatures suddenly began to rise, just as the spring Conservation Order goose season was hitting its home stretch. The season ends March 31.
“With warmer temperatures, we expect migrating birds – especially snow geese – to be back in Illinois,” DNR Waterfowl Biologist Randy Smith said. “We are asking hunters to report any sightings of dead birds they may encounter.”
Avian cholera has been creating concerns in western states in recent months. California and Nevada have seen outbreaks, with thousands of ducks, geese and other birds affected.
“It is still an ongoing outbreak,” Peregrine Wolff, a veterinarian for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, recently said.
The disease is not new to Illinois, and seems to have appeared occasionally over the years.
A study two decades ago by the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale looked at avian cholera in Canada geese.
“The disease by infected or carrier birds may occur under specific weather conditions and migration patterns that cause contact between those birds and susceptible winter populations,” the SIU researchers concluded.
According to Smith and DNR, birds infected with avian cholera usually succumb very quickly. A flock of geese may settle on an area, and take off a short time later, and dead birds may remain. Sick birds are rarely found, but will appear lethargic and have poor muscle control and may die within minutes of being observed.
Biologists with Ducks Unlimited say avian cholera is “a highly infectious disease that can lead to death in as little as six hours, although 24 to 48 hours is typical. Death can be so quick birds may literally fall out of the sky.”
The National Wildlife Health Center describes avian cholera this way: “The species of birds most commonly affected are ducks and geese, coots, gulls, and crows. The bacteria can be transmitted by bird-to-bird contact, contact with secretions or
feces of infected birds, or ingestion of food or water containing the bacteria. Aerosol tranmission may also occur. The bacteria may survive up to four months in soil and water.”