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Iowa DNR to monitor avian flu in wild birds

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Nick Fewings
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Unsplash
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said monitoring wild birds can help evaluate the risk for backyard and commercial flocks.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is monitoring wild birds for the deadly bird flu.

At a stop in Sioux City on Friday, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said that wild birds carrying the highly pathogenic avian flu are the greatest threat to commercial and backyard flocks this year. Compared to the 2015 outbreak, he said the state has seen less spread from farm to neighboring farm.

Naig said that’s because producers are better prepared to handle the virus this time around. He said stricter security measures have prevented the disease from spreading from one facility to another.

“The state of Iowa, states across the country and the USDA are moving quicker to detect and quarantine and contain the virus,” he said. “I think we're actually seeing very little lateral movement in this outbreak, but more of those independent wild bird introductions.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said the state is doing a better job at containing the virus' spread through commercial facilities at Morningside University in Sioux City.
Kendall Crawford
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IPR
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said the state is doing a better job at containing the virus' spread through commercial facilities, during a Friday stop at Morningside University in Sioux City.

There have been 16 confirmed cases of bird flu in the state of Iowa’ commercial and bird flocks so far. Buena Vista county alone has seen about 5.4 million infections among its commercial turkey and layer hen flocks.

But, commercial and backyard flocks are not the only birds threatened by the virus. State wildlife veterinarian Rachel Ruden said monitoring wild bird cases will also help the DNR understand how the latest outbreak has impacted the health of Iowa’s ecosystems.

She said this year’s outbreak differs from past years. This strain of the virus is increasing the mortality of wild birds like waterfowl, raptors and scavengers. She said their deaths could have a domino effect on other species.

“Losing some of these like high caliber predators could have other effects that we just want to know to what extent this virus is impacting them as well,” Ruden said.

“We don't know if with time if that virus, that burden, that's on the landscape will kind of dissipate or if our resident populations will continue to circulate it amongst the wild waterfowl."
State wildlife veterinarian Rachel Ruden

Over 13 million birds in commercial and backyard flocks in Iowa have been culled due to the virus this year. It's the largest outbreak since 2015 when the flu killed over 30 million birds in Iowa, and 50 million birds across the U.S.

Ruden said much of the contamination likely came from light goose migration through Iowa. She said these birds have since left, but the scope of their impact is still unclear.

“We don't know if with time if that virus, that burden that's on the landscape will kind of dissipate or if our resident populations will continue to circulate it amongst the wild waterfowl,” she said.

Naig said he expects Iowa will see more cases throughout the spring as wild birds continue to migrate through the region. He said it will be a challenge, but the state will use what it learned from the past outbreak.

“A lot of lessons learned,” Naig said. “And this is where the hard work pays off, as we're dealing with it again, unfortunately.”

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.