Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed in a gyrfalcon from Columbia Falls. This is the first case of HPAI reported in the state.

Gyrfalcon Public domain image/ William Kuhnert
Public domain image/ William Kuhnert

The gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcon species, weighing 2-3 pounds, and can be used as a captive bird for hunting and the art of falconry. The falcon died of unexplained causes and was sent to the FWP Wildlife Lab in Bozeman.  The gyrfalcon was confirmed to have HPAI strain H5N2 at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, IA.  No human health issues have been reported for this strain, to date, and no mortalities in domestic poultry in Montana have been detected.

Key facts about Avian Influenza:

  • Avian influenza (AI) is an infectious viral disease of birds that can cause high mortality rates in domestic flocks
  • Avian influenza viruses rarely cause clinical signs in wild waterfowl, although raptors and wild game birds (pheasants, quail, turkey, grouse) may be more susceptible to HPAI.
  • MFWP recommends that falconers avoid hunting avian species, particularly waterfowl during HPAI outbreaks.  Game bird farmers are advised to follow the same precautions as outlined for domestic poultry (http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov).
  • The Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) recommends that poultry producers practice good biosecurity including limiting contact between domestic and wild birds, limiting visitor access to domestic poultry.
  • Most avian influenza viruses do not infect humans and the meat from these animals is safe for human consumption; however, it is recommended that people follow proper sanitary precautions when handling birds.  Wear latex or rubber gloves when cleaning birds, washing hands with soapy water after cleaning, clean and disinfect equipment and surfaces that came in contact with the bird, and cook wild birds thoroughly before eating the meat.  The US Department of Agriculture recommends following sanitary handling procedures and cooking poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Domestic poultry owners should take precautions to keep wild birds out of flocks.

MDOL is involved with the investigation and will be identifying other poultry producers in the area for surveillance purposes. If you experience sudden onset of illness or high death loss in domestic poultry, please contact the Montana Department of Livestock (444-2043).

If you find sick or dead wild birds that have died from unknown causes please contact your local FWP Warden, Biologist or Regional office, or call the FWP wildlife veterinarian (994-5671).