Snow geese in Skagit Valley (photo by Glenn Nelson)
Feb. 15, 2023 Note: Bird flu (also known as avian influenza) has received some concerning media attention lately, including reports of transmissions to mammals such as black bears. However, the virus is not considered a direct threat to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other science-based authorities. Previously reported cautions and protocols remain in place.
More than 700 deceased birds, primarily juvenile snow geese, have been retrieved by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in western Skagit County on and around Skagit Bay, as well as in northwestern Snohomish County and on Camano Island and Port Susan in Island County.
Samples have been taken from these birds for testing for bird flu, with H5N1 strain Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) suspected.
The public is urged to avoid all contact with sick or dead birds and instead report any discoveries to WDFW through the following form:
As resources are available, biologists may respond to remove bird carcasses and, if in an area or species where avian influenza has not been confirmed, test for the virus, according to WDFW. Due to the magnitude of this outbreak, WDFW staff will not be able to respond to all reported cases.
The WDFW has detected 62 positive instances of the bird flu in King County, including four Bald Eagles.
Bird Flu Symptoms
Infected birds may appear lethargic, unable to fly, and exhibit wheezing, vomiting, or have diarrhea or secretions from their mouth or nostrils, according to the WDFW.
For more information and background on bird flu, please see the following FAQ:
To reduce the risk of disease transmission, the WDFW asks hunters to cease cleaning and disposing of bird carcasses in the field, but to do so at home and to double bag and dispose of bird carcasses in the garbage.
From fall through spring, western Skagit County, Island County, and northwestern Snohomish County are major feeding and roosting areas for snow geese and other migratory waterfowl. The recent avian influenza hotspot around Skagit Bay follows a similar outbreak in November around Wiser Lake in Whatcom County. More than 450 dead birds have been removed from that area.
Low Risk to People
HPAI is very contagious among birds but the risk to people is low. This current strain of bird flu does not appear to easily infect humans. As a precautionary measure, people with known extended contact with infected birds should contact their local health department if they develop flu-like symptoms.
For hunters, waterfowl and other birds that appear healthy or are actively flying likely present minimal risk but should be cooked thoroughly before consumption. Dead geese and ducks found in western Skagit and Whatcom counties and northwestern Snohomish County are likely the result of avian influenza. Goose hunting has been closed in this area (Goose Management Area 1) since Nov. 27 and will reopen Dec. 10 through Jan. 29.
Dogs and other animals can become sick with avian influenza, and care should be taken to avoid contact between pets and either sick birds or carcasses of diseased birds. Wherever possible, maintain control of and discourage your dog from touching birds that were not shot immediately beforehand.
Reports of suspected avian influenza in domestic flocks should be sent to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Call 1-800-606-3056 or visit their webpage for more information about how to protect poultry and other domestic birds.
Do you believe conservation and education should be informed by science? Consider volunteering on our Science Committee.
Yoon Lee isn’t sure where to credit his fascination with birds – Wild Kratts television show, an Anna’s Hummingbird on his school campus, or a global pandemic. Either way, it is here to stay, and he is busy creating a better future for birds in our community through his activism.
If you have been feeding the hummingbirds and they have become accustomed to finding food in your yard, there are steps you can take to keep nectar available even during cold snaps.