SPRINGFIELD – As temperatures warm and migrating waterfowl return to Illinois, snow goose hunters should be aware of the potential presence of avian cholera.
Dead waterfowl found at sites along the Illinois River and at Carlyle and Horseshoe lakes earlier this winter have tested positive for avian cholera. The total number of dead birds at all sites was less than 300. Most birds affected were lesser snow geese, but smaller numbers of greater white-fronted geese and some ducks also were reported.
Avian cholera is caused by bacteria that can spread from bird to bird and also remain in the environment. Avian cholera poses a low risk to people and pets, but safe handling of waterfowl and good hygiene practices are recommended. Illinois Department of Natural Resources waterfowl biologist Randy Smith said dead birds were discovered in late December and early January. The outbreak ended when the weather turned colder, and laboratory results were not available until migrating waterfowl had moved farther south.
“With warmer temperatures, we expect migrating birds — especially snow geese — to be back in Illinois in the coming days,” Smith said. “We are asking hunters to report any sightings of dead birds they may encounter.”
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. Although avian cholera may affect substantial numbers of birds in some areas, it is not a threat to the overall population.
Smith said an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza is ongoing in western and Pacific coast states, but the disease has not been found in Illinois.
For more information, visit the National Wildlife Health Center website: http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/disease_information/avian_cholera/index.jsp
Hunters should follow these routine precautions when handling game:
• Do not handle or eat sick game.
• Prepare game in a well-ventilated area.
• Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game.
• Wash hands and thoroughly clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with game.
• Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling animals.
• All game should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.