2,000 snow geese fall out of the sky over Idaho in avian cholera outbreak

Volunteers have spent days picking up dead birds

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The Independent Online

As many as 2,000 snow geese have fallen dead from the sky over Idaho, apparently victims of an avian cholera outbreak, wildlife officials said.

Volunteers and workers with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game have spent the last several days picking up the carcasses of the birds from the ground over an area around the towns of Terreton and Roberts in the eastern part of the state, officials said. They were then taken for incineration.

The die-off of the snow geese occurred as they passed over Idaho on their spring northward migration to breeding grounds on the north coast of Alaska and Canada. It’s likely they contracted the disease in wintering grounds in the American Southwest and Mexico before setting off on their grueling journey.

“Basically they just fell out of the sky,” Gregg Losinski, a spokesman for the state wildlife agency said, according to a report by Reuters. The job of locating the dead birds was aided by circling bald eagles looking for an easy meal.

Testing of the carcasses was still under way to confirm the deaths were indeed due to avian cholera, which is caused by a bacteria that can survive in soil and water for as long as four months. While there is little risk of transmission to humans the presence of the carcasses may pose a threat to local wildlife.


“The carcasses of a small number of snow geese were first reported at Camas National Wildlife Refuge near Dubois, Idaho. Closer inspection on Friday found higher numbers of dead birds at the Mud Lake, WMA Area near Terreton, Idaho and a lesser amount at Market Lake WMA near Roberts, Idaho.”, the wildlife agency said in a statement.

According to the US Geographical Survey website, avian cholera primarily strikes geese, ducks, coots and crows. Mass die-offs have been reported before and death for the birds can be swift.

“The sudden appearance of large numbers of dead birds in good body condition with few if any sick birds is observed,” the site says. “Death may be so rapid that birds literally fall out of the sky or die while eating with no previous signs of disease.”

Alaska reported its first avian cholera outbreak in December 2013 when hundreds of dead birds were found on the beaches of St Lawrence Island. Some experts said they found as many as 300 dead birds per square kilometer in the region in the Bering Sea.