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2K Geese Drop Dead in Idaho

Avian cholera suspected in mass die-off of migrating birds
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 17, 2015 4:09 PM CDT
2K Geese Drop Dead in Idaho
This 2005 file photo shows snow geese and Canada geese preparing to land on marsh near Merrill, Ore.   (JEFF BARNARD)

Some 2,000 migrating snow geese have died in eastern Idaho, likely from avian cholera, which comes on quickly, causes convulsions and erratic flight, and can kill birds midflight, wildlife officials say. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says it collected the dead birds over the past several days at wildlife management areas near the towns of Terreton and Roberts. Authorities said the geese, known for their distinctive white bodies and black wingtips, were migrating from the Southwest and Mexico to breeding grounds on Alaska's north coast. It's unclear where they picked up the bacteria, said Steve Schmidt, a Fish and Game supervisor. "Outbreaks of avian cholera have occurred sporadically in the region over the past few decades," he said.

"The important thing is to quickly collect as many of the carcasses as possible, to prevent other birds from feeding on the infected birds," Schmidt said. Biologists at the Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area near Terreton said about 20 eagles also were in the area, though it's unclear if they were exposed. According to the USGS' National Wildlife Health Center, avian cholera spreads so quickly in infected birds that some with no previous signs of illness can die while in flight and fall out of the sky. Health experts say humans are not at a high risk of infection. Schmidt estimated that up to 10,000 snow geese pass through eastern Idaho each March. They spend a week or two and feed on waste grain in nearby wheat fields before continuing north. (More Idaho stories.)

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