The discovery of nearly two dozen dead geese at Charles E. Sexton Memorial Park in Webster has sparked concerns over a potential outbreak of Avian Flu, with test results from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation still pending.
While much uncertainty remains around this situation in Webster, which sits near the Wayne-Monroe county border, Montezuma Audubon Center Director Chris Lajewski says concerns around Avian Flu underscore a condition found in birds more frequently over the last few years. The United States Department of Agriculture reported over 400 cases in wild birds nationwide in the past month alone.
To be clear, Avian Flu has not yet been identified in the Webster case. However, Lajewski says the warning signs are something educators and birders are always watching out for. “This is something that we’ve been dealing with across this country now for a few years,” Lajewski told FingerLakes1.com. “This particular strain that has impacted our birds over the last two years, was first identified in winter of 2022. In the Finger Lakes region, we saw some just some birds, waterfowl in particular succumb to this virus. As we continued through the winter season, and got into the spring season of 2022, we started to see some die off in birds of prey because those eagles, hawks, falcons and owls were starting to consume infected waterfowl.”
The first reports of the deceased birds in Webster came on December 23, according to DEC officials, with the Town of Webster being alerted two days later. Despite the alarming find town officials reassured the public that the park remains safe.
Lajewski says Avian Flu can spread from birds migrating through the area, but it’s often difficult to identify the ‘how’ when it comes to the sickness entering a flock or specific location.
As for the warning signs of Avian Flu, believe it or not, Lajewski says it looks a lot like strains of flu caught by people. “Like people, you may see birds coughing or sneezing, and so that contact with other birds is a way the virus can spread,” he explained. “It can also spread through fecal matter.” He says these are the reasons that bird-to-human infection is so rare.
CDC data backs that up with the last reported case in April 2022.
However, the risk to birds is significant. Typcially, when birds migrate cases of Avian Flu can pop up. To that end, domestic flocks, like those found at chicken or pheasant farms are susceptible to the virus.
Lajewski said ongoing community science efforts, like bird counts that happen year-round, are an integral part to keeping tabs on what’s happening within flocks across the Finger Lakes. “We’re counting birds year-round, and there’s a fair number of birders out in the region, too, so whether you’re hiking or just taking notice of the world around you – it’s important to say something if you see something.”
As for a potential outbreak of Avian Flu in Webster, offiicals plan to give updates to residents after testing is complete on deceased birds at Cornell.