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Avian flu in Idaho sends Zoo Boise’s birds into quarantine. Here’s what we know

UPDATED: Sun., June 19, 2022

Tanushri Sundar, Idaho Statesman

As bird flu spreads in Idaho, Zoo Boise has taken steps to protect its winged creatures.

Most of the affected birds are migratory populations, such as ducks and geese, and not ones that live in Idaho year-round, Fish and Game spokesperson Roger Phillips told the Idaho Statesman.

Ducks and geese are getting sick and dying in a number of Boise’s parks, Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway told the Statesman. Infected birds have been reported at Ann Morrison, Redwood, Julia Davis, Esther Simplot, and Bernadine Quinn Riverside parks.

“I think people are a little bit shocked,” Holloway told the Statesman. It’s a double-edged sword — people get tired of seeing goose waste in the parks, but at the same time, they don’t want to see inhumane ways for geese and ducks to pass, he added.

The zoo has received a few inquiries about the missing birds, but it plans to continue protective measures until state and federal authorities indicate that the flu has passed and it is safe for the birds to be outside, Holloway said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, waterfowl are reservoirs for avian influenza, meaning that the virus naturally lives and grows in their bodies. With built in immunity, they don’t always get sick, but they can transmit the virus to Idaho’s non-migratory and poultry birds.

Resident birds are vulnerable to illness and death, the Statesman previously reported. With no treatment or vaccine available, bird flu must “run its course,” stated Idaho Fish and Game in a press release.

Zoo Boise builds a barrier against bird droppings

In response, Zoo Boise wasted no time putting birds in quarantine.

Because the virus spreads through infected birds’ saliva, nasal secretions and feces, Zoo Boise’s birds have been sealed off. Zoo Boise took precautions in late April, as soon as bird flu arrived in Idaho, Holloway said.

Some birds have been brought indoors, and outdoor-exhibit birds, like the penguins and the sea eagles, are under newly added roofs, which are sealed to protect the enclosures from bird droppings.

As outdoor-exhibit birds, the penguins and sea eagles may have more exposure to the virus, Holloway said, but none of the birds have shown any signs of infection as of June 16.

Many indoor-exhibit birds, like the West African crowned crane, are from warm weather locations and are used to spending time indoors during the winter. Still, they miss seeing us, Holloway said.

“They would love to be on exhibit and interact with our guests at the zoo,” he told the Statesman.

Zoo Boise houses between 40 and 50 birds, including rare and vulnerable Steller’s sea eagles. The sea eagles remain on display, alongside penguins and the birds in the Gorongosa exhibit aviary.

Even after this bout of bird flu runs its course — which could be this summer, the Statesman previously reported — conservation centers like Zoo Boise won’t be done with protecting its birds. Avian influenza is associated with massive migrations of waterfowl coming through Idaho and will return to the state periodically, Phillips said.

The public can prevent waterfowl from congregating and spreading disease by removing bird feeders and reporting sick animals to Idaho Fish and Game. These are some easy preventative measures which people can do in their everyday lives, Phillips said.

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