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Published July 13, 2015, 09:38 AM

Chickadee is nation’s first songbird with bird flu

A chickadee found in Ramsey County is the second wild bird in Minnesota — and the first songbird in the nation — to be confirmed as having highly pathogenic avian influenza.

By: Andy Rathbun, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — A chickadee found in Ramsey County is the second wild bird in Minnesota — and the first songbird in the nation — to be confirmed as having highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota director Phil Jenni said the bird, which he believes was found in Vadnais Heights, exhibited “abnormal neurological signs” when it was brought to the center June 10.

It’s not uncommon for the Roseville facility to see such signs in ground-feeding animals, and the bird was immediately euthanized according to protocol. The chickadee was not in contact with any other animals at the facility, Jenni said, adding that the center has stepped up its bio-security measures because of the bird flu epidemic.

The center sent the chickadee and six others that had displayed similar neurological signs to the University of Minnesota’s diagnostic testing laboratory, and only one of the seven came back as having avian influenza. Further testing showed it was highly pathogenic avian influenza, Jenni said.

The discovery follows confirmation of the virus in a Cooper’s hawk found in Yellow Medicine County in April — the first wild bird to test positive for HPAI in Minnesota.

Nationally, several other birds have tested positive for the virus, but none of them were songbirds.

“The report of a chickadee testing positive for avian influenza is the first detection of the disease in a songbird,” Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said in a statement. “This is further evidence that while waterfowl species can serve as a reservoir for avian influenza, other species are susceptible to the disease.”

Jenni points out, though, that songbirds have not been tested for the virus as waterfowl have, “so who knows if it would have shown up or not?”

“Wildlife centers are really important for disease surveillance,” Jenni said. “The presence of a place like (ours) actually helps the state and other agencies respond to potential disease outbreaks.”

Cornicelli said the DNR will not be able to determine how or where the chickadee was infected. Testing also could not determine the exact strain of virus.

While waterfowl can carry and potentially spread the virus without getting sick or dying, it is believed to be fatal in infected raptors and songbirds, according to the DNR.

The agency is conducting expanded wild bird surveillance this summer and will test waterfowl harvested by hunters across the state this fall.

The virus — specifically the H5N2 strain — has significantly affected the poultry industry in Minnesota. More than 9 million birds have died from the virus or been euthanized as a result of its presence in their flocks.

The Minnesota Board of Health said Thursday that the state has not seen any new reports of the virus in domestic flocks since June 5.

In May, concern over the spread of the virus prompted the board of health to cancel all bird exhibits in the state this year, including at the Minnesota State Fair.

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