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Friday, March 10, 2006

Crazy Bird Flu Articles

I'm really getting tired of non-bird experts talking about how they expect bird flu to get to the US. The most rediculous statement I've seen recently was this line by David Nabarro in a CBS story online.:

"Birds carrying the virus along the West African-Atlantic flyway will move into the area of Greenland and Northern Canada and then, probably towards the latter parts of this year, move down into the American continent."

This is just plain crazy. The most abundant migrant from Europe to Greenland are Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, and Greater White-fronted Goose. None of these birds normally travel from Greenland down to North America in the winter. There are less than a dozen accepted records of Pink-footed Goose in eastern North America, and only a couple dozen Greenland White-fronted Goose found in eastern North America each winter. And geese have not been shown to be effective long-distance carriers of H5N1--as shown by the huge die-off of 10,000 Bar-headed Goose in the China outbreak last year. So, for H5N1 to get to the US via Greenland, it'd have to get into a European goose at just the right time for it to migrate north to Greenland, and then it would have to transfer it to a North American Snow Goose, Cackling Goose, or Canada Goose in Greenland. Then one of those American geese would have to be able to carry it south four months later. Not a likely scenario, by any means.

The chances of a bird from Asia bringing it to Alaska are probably only slightly better. There is a chance that this would happen, but as Pete Marra of the Smithsonian stated in the latest USA Today story, it is more likely that H5N1 avian influenza will get to the via the pet trade or poultry shipments.

Despite the crazy map that USA Today put out, seemingly showing a migratory pathway crossing the Atlantic (one good way to lie with maps, is to show something really small with a big line!), this latest article is a bit better than we've seen lately, tempering concerns about wild birds with statements by actual ornithologists, and pointing to other more likely ways that bird flu may come to the US.


Gavan said...

I think you're on to something here. I'm amazed at the amount of press that suggests that H5N1 will arrive on the wings of migrating birds while poultry & imported bird are ignored. Wondering what you think of this news piece from National Geographic reporting that UN's lead spokesperson on bird flu suggests that it will reach the US (and Canada) with the Snow Goose migration (which is an interesting topic given the Northern migration on right now).

birdchaser said...

As I suggested above, there are a number of things that would have to happen for the Snow Goose route from Greenland to bring H5N1 to North America. Need to look closely at Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, and Greater White-fronted Goose populations in Europe right now to see if they are carrying H5N1. I think there is a possibility that these birds could carry it to Greenland, but not sure that this possibility is very big. And even if they do carry the virus to Greenland, it would have to persist there in the goose populations for more than four months to be carried south again via Snow Goose flocks to North America. I don't see that possibility as very likely, but we'll see.

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