Numerous expressions exist about animals in the sky. “It’s raining cats and dogs,” is a classic example, or “I’ll believe it when pigs fly.” But on Monday, March 16, 2,000 snow geese – ironically animals that can actually fly – fell from the sky due to what people suspect to be avian cholera.
Wildlife managers have said that the geese fell in Idaho while they were migrating en route to their nesting grounds in the northern coast of Alaska. Although biologists are waiting for results from a wildlife lab, the way the animals died in the air indicates that avian cholera is mostly likely the culprit.
Avian cholera is caused from bacteria that can survive in soil and water for many months. Turkeys and chickens are at the highest risk for getting the disease, but ducks, geese, raptors, and canaries can catch it as well. Adult birds are also more susceptible. Outbreaks often occur in the cold and wet weather, and are usually linked with rodents that can be found in breeding houses.
There are two forms in which avian cholera can display itself – acute and chronic. Snow geese have often been found with the chronic infection, and are individuals considered to be long-term mobile receptacles for the disease. Often symptoms in chronic cases will present themselves in an infected area, which tends to be highly localized – the respiratory tract, hock joints, foot pads, to name a few. Antibiotics are available for different birds, but some birds may die within one day after contracting the bacteria, making it difficult to prevent.
As numerous Idaho Department of Fish and Game employees, as well as volunteers, spent their weekend transporting the snow geese bodies, few remained concern. Although possible, the risk of contracting avian cholera from the birds is highly unlikely. However, wildlife is a different story.
Bald Eagles roamed the area where the snow geese had lain dead, causing concern for a spreading of the disease. Of course the trouble with flying animals contracting such a disease, is that it’s hard to contain, as they can travel far distances and spread bacteria to a wide range.
As more information develops as the test results come in, and they confirm the cause of death, they will likely be able to estimate the effects this could have on the greater bird population. For now, we’ll have to put our jokes about animals in the sky aside for some time.