Avian flu is killing some of the Canada geese at Mill Lake Park in Abbotsford, according to the founder of a local wildlife shelter.
Elizabeth Melnick of Elizabeth’s Wildlife Centre said she is getting almost-daily calls of geese being found dead at the park or exhibiting symptoms.
Several of the birds brought into the centre have since tested positive for the infection, she said.
Melnick said the number of cases she has seen surpasses those that occurred during the previous major avian flu outbreak in 2004.
“I don’t recall it ever being like this at Mill Lake,” she said. “It’s just spreading like wild fire.”
The first confirmation this year of H5N1 in B.C. was in mid-April at a commercial poultry producer in the north Okanagan.
Outbreaks have since been reported across B.C., including in mid-May at a commercial poultry farm in Abbotsford.
Infected premises have been placed under quarantine by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Melnick said she first became aware of the virus being spread locally to wild birds when an ill male wood duck and a duckling were brought to the centre from the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove on May 16.
She said the birds were exhibiting obvious symptoms of avian flu – which impacts the central nervous system – including a shaking head.
Lab results confirmed the birds had contracted the virus.
Melnick then began receiving calls from the public about dead Canada geese at Mill Lake, and some sick ones have been brought to the centre.
She said a suspected case of avian flu requires her to isolate the birds from the other animals at the centre, and to gear up in personal protective equipment.
A confirmed case results in the bird having to be euthanized.
Melnick said dealing with these cases has put a further strain on the wildlife centre at their busiest time of the year and before an expansion and renovations have taken place.
“It’s just added so much to our workload to an already-busy baby season working out of an Amco trailer,” she said.
Melnick said, with the exception of the first two birds, she has only seen the flu impacting Canada geese at Mill Lake.
Elizabeth’s Wildlife Centre is one of B.C.’s main wildlife rehabilitation centres, focusing on the care of small mammals and birds.
Its services include providing nutrition, medication and veterinary services to small creatures such as squirrels, rabbits, opossums, hummingbirds and crows until they are able to be released back to the wild.
Anyone who sees a dead wild bird is asked to call the Wild Bird Morality Investigation Program at 1-866-431-2473 to file a report.