In late 2022, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officers in Northeast (NE) Colorado observed large numbers of dead or sick birds related to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Shortly after the first detections in NE Colorado, officers in Southeast (SE) Colorado also started to observe large numbers of dead or dying birds resulting from HPAI. Kiowa, Prowers, Bent, and Otero counties experienced the highest number of HPAI bird mortalities and sickness.
Avian Influenza (AI) is a naturally occurring virus in wild bird populations. AI generally has minimal effects on wild birds and their overall populations. Normally, birds infected with AI rarely show signs of the disease; however, this was not the case with the 2022 strain also known as HPAI. Birds infected with HPAI generally show symptoms including: swimming in circles, moving slowly, incoordination (appearing “drunk”), head tilt, or inability to lift their head.
In our area of SE Colorado, snow geese and raptors, particularly red tail hawks, have been most impacted, although HPAI has been detected in other species. Waterfowl especially, become concentrated as they rest on ponds, lakes, and reservoirs along their fall migration routes. As birds become more concentrated, HPAI outbreaks often become larger in size. Several of our large bodies of water that hold particularly high numbers of snow geese, have experienced die-offs ranging from under a hundred birds to upwards of a thousand.
As of late, we have observed a significant decline in the number of geese exhibiting symptoms of HPAI in our area. While it seems cases of HPAI are on the decline, it is impossible to know what effects HPAI will have as birds migrate back north during their spring migration. CPW will continue to monitor the situation.
CPW asks if you see three or more dead birds in the same area within a two-week period or if you see live birds that appear sick, please contact your local wildlife officer or the Lamar CPW office. Please avoid contact with dead birds or birds that appear sick. Although not common, HPAI can transmit to humans. There is a large amount uncertainty surrounding HPAI, and wildlife officials are unsure how HPAI will affect wild bird populations going forward. Unfortunately, only time will tell on the true impact of HPAI. If you would like to learn more about HPAI or have additional questions, please visit CPW’s website dedicated to HPAI information (https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Avian-Influenza.aspx).