Cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have seen a rise in Okotoks.

The H5N1 bird flu strain was first detected in Canada in 2021 and saw outbreaks in poultry flocks in 2021 and 2022, leading to culls in some areas.

Katrina Terrill, acting executive director at the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC), said this year they've mainly seen it affecting migratory birds.

"We are seeing it in a lot of bird populations, and it seems particularly this year, a lot of geese populations."

It's been spreading much more in the United States, likely due to the more accommodating climate and higher density of poultry populations, with upwards of 61 million birds affected by HPAI.

The AIWC keeps medical records of animals taken in, and while the spread hasn't been as bad this year, they've noticed an uptick in confirmed HPAI cases in Okotoks and Airdrie.

There's no indication that HPAI can be transmitted to humans, though it is extremely contagious and often deadly for birds.

Terrill says there are physical and behavioural symptoms that can be a telltale sign of HPAI.

"Usually, we can tell when a bird has it because they've got these really clouded-over eyes. Their eyes will almost have a grey-blue colour, they'll have crust on their face around their eyes, and they're usually showing strange behaviour, so not being able to lift up their head, maybe spinning in circles on the water, being unable to walk in a straight line, or just generally not moving around very much."

For locals who keep birds and may be concerned of the spread of bird flu, Terrill has a few recommendations for precautions.

"One thing I'd definitely recommend doing is trying to keep them inside as much as possible during the migration season, especially if you notice there are wild birds landing in the fields around and keep the food inside. Keep any attractants that are present away from areas where migratory birds may come in. We do also have people that are worried about bird feeders, so I would suggest if you do have a bird feeder out, to be cleaning it regularly once a week. That means taking out all the bird seed and replacing it with fresh and also taking the parts apart for the bird feeder and rinsing them in a 10 per cent bleach solution for up to 10 minutes."

For anyone who sees a bird that they believe to be suffering from HPAI and wants to help it out, Terrill recommends contacting the AIWC so that one of their personnel can respond and rescue the animal.

If you do handle a bird suspected to have HPAI, be sure to use caution.

"Still protect yourself, and I wouldn't recommend members of the public to try and rescue a goose on their own. Even not feeling very well, they can pack quite a punch with their wings. We would encourage people to call us and then we will rescue it in a safe way. If you do happen to see one that's very ill, wrapping a towel around it and handling it that way or having gloves on would be a sufficient barrier."

The AIWC confirmed that the Canada goose that was recovered from a frozen storm pond by the Okotoks Fire Department earlier this month was suffering from HPAI and that it did sadly die in the days after it was rescued.

The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation is a non-profit dedicated to animal rescue and rehabilitation of animals, with contact/donation information available on their website.

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