Thursday, April 13, 2023

USFWS Update: 15 Additional Condor Deaths Attributed To HPAI H5

California Condor - Photo Credit Don Graham 


Four days ago, in U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Statement: HPAI Confirmed As Cause Of Death For 3 California Condors, we looked at a preliminary report on the deaths of 3 Condors - and the investigation into additional deaths - in northern Arizona due to HPAI H5N1. 

As scavenger birds, Condors feed almost exclusively on carrion, which increasingly runs the risk of being infected with HPAI H5 (see USDA Mammalian HPAI Infection List).  

The critically endangered California Condor almost became extinct in the early 1980s, but has made a modest recovery due to conservation efforts by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and breeding programs at San Diego's Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo.

Still, there are barely over 500 known to exist, and their survival is not assured.  All of which makes the following update from the FWS all the more concerning, as we learn that the number of confirmed and suspected H5N1 deaths has climbed six-fold; to 18.


Southwest California Condor Flock - April 12, 2023

Due to the recent identification of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in the free-flying California condor population in Arizona-Utah, the Service is now considering all condor deaths in this flock to be attributed to HPAI. Until further notice, we will report all deceased condors in the Southwest Flock found on or after March 30, 2023, as "suspect HPAI." As results are confirmed at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Service Laboratory we will confirm the suspect case and report them as "confirmed HPAI." 

We are operating in this manner to be as transparent as possible to the public and stakeholders. As of April 12, 2023, 12 condors have died "suspect HPAI" and six condors have died "confirmed HPAI," for a total of 18 condors. Three condors died after being brought in for care, and are included in the total of 18. Five condors are currently receiving supportive care and undergoing testing for HPAI. Learn more about HPAI.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed as the cause of mortality for three California condors found in northern Arizona, according to wildlife officials. The Arizona-Utah population moves throughout northern Arizona and southern Utah, using the landscape within Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, the Kaibab Plateau, and surrounding areas. To date, the virus has not been detected in the other condor populations in California or Baja California, Mexico.
On March 9, The Peregrine Fund, which manages the Arizona-Utah condor flock, first observed a bird in the wild exhibiting signs of illness, initially suspected to be lead poisoning. Crews continued to monitor this bird and others showing similar behavior. On March 20, they collected the deceased female below her nest, which was the first bird confirmed positive with HPAI.

Upon collection, the bird was went to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory for necropsy to determine the cause of death. Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Lab analyzed samples, and preliminary results indicated the bird tested positive for HPAI subtype H5N1. The positive result was confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Service Laboratory on March 30.

When initially reported by partners on April 4, a total of three deceased birds were confirmed as HPAI positive. Additionally, five birds displaying signs of illness were captured by The Peregrine Fund and sent to Liberty Wildlife in Phoenix, Ariz., for care. One of the birds died shortly after arrival. The remaining four were in quarantine while samples are tested for HPAI. Any additional live or deceased condors collected in Arizona and Utah will be treated as HPAI suspected cases. Live birds will be transferred to appropriate facilities to receive care.

California condor populations face multiple stressors, such as exposure to lead shot and habitat degradation, that have reduced the resiliency of the population. To address the unfolding threat of HPAI, coordination is ongoing with avian influenza experts, veterinarians, and Tribal, state and federal partners across the condor’s range. California condor recovery partners are mobilizing resources and taking preemptive steps to protect wild birds from HPAI. Across the condor’s range, daily activities continue, such as captive breeding and the monitoring of breeding and nesting sites.

Potential exposure of HPAI is expected to rise during the spring migration of birds north to their breeding grounds. HPAI has been detected in all U.S. states, except Hawaii, in wild and domestic animals.

HPAI is considered low risk as a human health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control; however, infections in humans have been reported. HPAI is highly contagious in wildlife and can spread quickly by several routes, including bird-to-bird contact, environmental contamination with fecal material, and via exposed clothing, shoes and vehicles. To protect people and birds, it is important to take precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Southwest Condor Working Group is supporting The Peregrine Fund and collaborating on monitoring condor health and behavior, identifying symptomatic birds, and transporting distressed birds to Liberty Wildlife, where they are receiving supportive care.
  • If you see a condor exhibiting any of the following signs of illness in Arizona or Utah, please contact The Peregrine Fund at (928) 352-8551 or Signs include lethargy, incoordination, presenting as dull or unresponsive, holding head in an unusual position, and walking in circles.
  • If you see condors, please observe from a distance. Stress can be harmful to birds exhibiting symptoms of compromised health. Please be respectful and limit human disturbance when encountering these birds on public lands.
  • Report bird mortalities to your state wildlife management agency immediately so that bird die-offs can be investigated and tested for avian influenza: Report dead wild birds in Arizona call USDA 1-866-536-7593 and dead wild birds in Utah to local DWR office or call USDA 1-866-536-7593.
  • Please follow the below guidance to help limit the spread of the virus and avoid bird-human contact:
    • To report dead or sick animals, please contact your state wildlife agency.Keep your family, including pets, a safe distance away from wildlife.
    • Do not feed, handle or approach sick or dead animals or their droppings.
    • Always wash your hands after working or playing outside.
    • Prevent contact of domestic or captive birds with wild birds.
    • Leave young animals alone. Often, the parent animals are close by and will return for their young. For guidance on orphaned or injured wild birds, please contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center, state wildlife agency, or local land management agency.
    • USDA also has biosecurity guidance for people who keep backyard poultry.
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