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Wildlife rehabilitation group changes protocol over avian flu concerns


A highly pathogenic strain of Avian Flu is impacting birds across the U.S. It’s causing problems for poultry farms, but it’s also impacting wild birds.

The Wisconsin DNR has confirmed five cases of the bird flu in wild birds in Dane, Milwaukee, Columbia, Grant, and Polk counties.

While there’s been no confirmed cases in our region, local wildlife rehabilitators are taking precautions.

Marge Gibson doesn’t yet know how the avian flu will play out in northern Wisconsin.

“We’re waiting. Waiting to find out how it’s going to present here in the Midwest and what species are going to be affected and if it’s going to give us any surprises,” said Gibson. She is the founder and executive director of the Raptor Education Group, or REGI, in Antigo.

The organization helps rehabilitate sick and injured birds. It’s also the permanent home of birds that can’t be release back into the wild and are now used to educate people.

Gibson recalls a few years ago, when a different, less pathogenic bird flu hit the U.S.

She says birds in our region were largely spared from that strain. That’s not what’s going around right now.

“It’s a different one than we’ve ever seen before. It’s from Europe and Africa. That’s why we’re not sure what to expect. We’re preparing for every scenario and hoping that we can cover all the bases and doing the very best we can and that’s about all we can do,” said Gibson.

REGI has changed it intake protocols for sick and injured birds.

This is to protect other birds in rehab, REGI’s educational birds, and staff, though there’s no known risk to human health with the is bird flu.

Symptoms of the bird flu include showing tremors, circling movement, or holding their heads in an unusual position.

Right now, REGI won’t take in any waterfowl except for loons. Gibson says they were hoping to still take in trumpeter swans until one in Polk County tested positive.

“Most of the birds that have avian flu are probably going to die before they get here. I think that’s the consensus of opinion. They usually are gone with 24 hours,” said Gibson.

REGI will also not accept dead birds to send off for testing like it normally would.

If you come across a sick or injured bird that is not a waterfowl, you can contact REGI at
(715) 623-4015 to coordinate pick up.

Gibson says these protocols will change as they learn more about how this flu will impact birds in our region. You can learn about the latest ones on REGI’s Facebook page.

“I guess we just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the very best this year for our wild patients,” she said.

REGI has not gotten any birds so for with confirmed or suspected cases of the avian flu.

Wild Instincts in Rhinelander is also changing it’s protocol slightly. It’s taking in birds on a case by case basis.

If you come across a dead bird, don’t touch it with your bare hands.

The Wisconsin DNR is encouraging people to call or email to report any birds with the symptoms.

These reports can be made to the DNR Wildlife Hotline by emailing DNRWildlifeSwitchboard@wi.gov or by leaving a voicemail message for a return phone call at 608-267-0866.

You can also learn more about this strain of avian flu on the DNR’s website.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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