DNR urges game-hunters take precautions with bird flu in the air this fall

WISCONSIN — This fall, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials want game-hunters to be cautious of bird flu in the air by remembering some simple tips.  

The highly pathogenic avian influenza or bird flu was first detected in Wisconsin and the Midwest for the first time in years this March, causing many farmers to have to kill their flocks and avoid bringing birds to live shows and exhibitions.  

This season, according to the DNR, it still appears to be present and circulating in the wild. Waterfowl in particular are more at risk.  

“So probably what’s going on is the virus has remained since spring and then as birds are coming back that haven’t previously been exposed, they are now getting exposed,” wildlife health section supervisor Jasmine Batten said.

So how do you spot an infected bird? Batten says the symptoms are neurological.

“They might do things like swimming in circles, having weird posture, just being lethargic,” she said, “especially some raptors species are really susceptible but also some duck species as well.”  

Right now, humans can’t catch the virus easily, but there are precautions hunters can take to limit the spread among birds, too.  

“The recommendation is that when you’re handling the carcasses that you wear gloves, that you use good sanitation, common sense stuff, washing your hands, hand sanitizer,” Batten said. “And then always make sure that you’re cooking wild game appropriately, following food safety precautions.”  

For hunters with their own backyard flocks, it’s even more important to make sure the virus doesn’t fly from the wild to the coop.

“Be aware that you could move the virus with you on your hunting equipment and your boots,” said Batten.  

According to the DNR, wild birds were found with the deadly virus in more than 30 counties earlier this year. It also infected domestic birds in at least a dozen counties.

“It has big impacts on the agriculture industry, so these big chicken flocks — if they do have a detection — then they are required to depopulate, so there’s been a lot of economic loss because of the virus,” Batten said.  

But Batten is hopeful that as long as they pay it safe, hunters hopefully won’t ruffle any feathers.

“Just follow some easy precautions and get out there and have a good season.”