Avian flu outbreaks in other jurisdictions have Manitoba wildlife centre on alert

Outbreaks of avian flu in other parts of North America have prompted Manitoba’s Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre to isolate its bird residents to keep them safe. 

Cases of highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian flu have been reported in southern Ontario, North Dakota and Minnesota in recent weeks. 

While the virus rarely infects humans, it can make birds very sick. 

Because of these cases, the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre in Île des Chênes is taking extra precautions, such as separating incoming wild birds from its ambassador birds who live at the centre, said its executive director Zoe Nakata. 

“We’ve decided to pull them from all of our education programs. We’re not even taking them out in our yard or in our visitor centre anymore,” she said. 

“So they’ll be staying hunkered down in our ambassador wing just to really try to keep them safe.”

The virus presents in different ways in birds, from coughing and sneezing to some neurological symptoms such as erratic behaviour, Nakata said. 

The centre is still taking in injured birds and other animals, but are asking people to call ahead of time, she said. 

“Our team may have specific precautions and instructions for you just to help keep you safe, keep the other animals here at Wildlife Haven safe,” she said. 

At Fort Whyte Alive in Winnipeg, staff don’t test birds for the virus but are watching reports closely as the centre does have a large, more concentrated urban goose population and migratory birds that come up through southern and eastern flyways, said Carolyn Townend, the centre’s communications and brand manager.

A spokesperson for the province said there haven’t been any reports of avian influenza (HPAI), subtype H5N1, in wild birds, commercial poultry or non-commercial poultry in Manitoba so far this year.

However, the province’s Chief Veterinary Office is monitoring cases in other jurisdictions and has provided an existing provincial avian influenza plan for review to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, they said.