Alert on Avian Influenza detected in seabirds

© National Audubon Society

Since November 2021 there have been several cases of serious outbreaks of Avian Influenza (AI) in the western Palearctic: on Eurasian Cranes in Israel, Barnacle Geese in the UK, and Dalmatian Pelicans in Greece (link).

In recent weeks, there were more reports on avian flu outbreaks attacking seabird colonies mainly on both sides of the Atlantic (links 1, 2) . Notably serious Avian Influenza casualties of hundreds to thousands of Northern Gannets and Great Skuas were reported from Shetland (link) and Bass Rock (link), in St. Kilda in Scotland, UK (link); Norfolk UK (link); Norway (link), Magdalen Islands of Canada (link); Great Skua colony hundreds of Common Terns found dead in Germany (link); the entire colony of Sandwich Terns ripe out in Netherlands (link). Species like Northern Gannets and Sandwich Terns form big and high-density colonies, which explains rapid infection at some of these sites. However, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was also reported in U.S.A. In Alaska, HPAI outbreaks reported over the past few months in both wild waterbirds and poultry (link); over thousand of Caspian Terns died from bird flu on Lake Michigan islands (link).

In Asia, although there is no detection of large-scale casualties due to AI, but there are alerting situations. For example, a flock of migrating Whiskered Tern at Hualian, eastern Taiwan was found dead in late May with some shorebirds (link). In June this year, the Little Tern Project in Japan reported a notably drastic decline of breeding Little Terns in Japan. It needs further investigation of these unexplained decrease of the population if it is related to the situation in wintering grounds or due to other factors.

There are also concerns that an outbreak of AI might strike globally threatened species to extinction. The Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern breeds only in five very dense colonies in China and Korea and terns are known to move between colonies of Wuzhishan, Jiushan, Matsu and Penghu in breeding seasons.

There are some recommendations from the Seabird Working Group:

  1. Seabird researchers and birdwatchers in Asia to keep a high vigilance and inform any signs of sickness and disease death observations to local wildlife conservation authorities.
  2. Do not touch or remove dead birds bare-handed.
  3. Keep pets and farm animals and poultry away from bird roosting and breeding sites.
  4. Countries should share information on the avian disease and establish a clear protocol in case of avian(and other wildlife) disease outbreaks.

EAAFP Secretariat is keeping close contact with FAO/EMPRES-AH, which is constantly monitoring the avian influenza situation worldwide (link). On 1 July, the Seabird Working Group will launch the Asian Seabird Colony registry. This is the first attempt to document all breeding (and main roosting) sites of seabirds in Asia. This can provide the basis of monitoring in the future.

Join the Webinar for the launch of the first Asian Seabird Colony registry (link).

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