Nova Scotia Journal

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Many birds extinct or dying of avian flu land on the Cape Breton shore

Nova Scotia

Key takeaways: 

  • The birds, primarily northern gannets, come from a Magdalen Islands colony that is widely contaminated with H5N1.
  • Almost 300 northern gannets infected with H5N1 — known as avian influenza or bird flu — have perished along Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton shoreline. 

Ocean-going birds infected with avian influenza are cleaning up dead on Nova Scotia shores. Regional officials are concerned that the highly infectious disease will spread among local bird populations.

Thousands of northern gannets from a colony in the Magdalen Islands have passed the flu over a few weeks, and Quebec’s Wildlife Ministry says hundreds of them have verified cases of H5N1 — known as avian flu.

Elizabeth Walsh, a biologist with Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, stated more than 300 dead or dying gannets had been found along the area’s shoreline. There is a problem the disease will spread locally.

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Ocean-going birds infected with avian influenza are cleaning up dead on Nova Scotia shores

“We have more chance of avian influenza in our water birds such as waterfowl and gulls, and then when we do have birds like the gannets, when they die on shore, scavengers such as bald eagles [and] our other birds of prey can also surrender to avian influenza,” she said.

Some infected gannets have been seen in Pictou and Antigonish counties along the Northumberland Strait, stated Walsh, but they mainly fly to areas of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton looking for food. “We’ve seen many gannets washing up on our shores, and I am concerned regarding what repercussions this could have on their people,” she stated.

There are no confirmed cases in regional shorebird populations, but officials are concerned regarding the possibility of spread among nesting species such as risked piping plovers.

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