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July 2024

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Flu, Fires, and Food

Photo by E. Wilde Questa NM

It’s a tough season for birds. Avian flu and wildfires exacerbate already difficult conditions in drought-stricken habitats. At the time of this writing, there are no reported cases of bird flu in New Mexico, but cases have been confirmed in Colorado, largely within commercial poultry farms. The disease is spread by migratory birds such as geese and ducks, and this strain seems to be particularly contagious, affecting raptors and crows at rates hitherto unseen.

Backyard watchers and poultry farmers should be on the alert for noticeable changes in behavior, such as coughing, diarrhea, lethargy, “sleepy” eyes, and soft-shelled eggs. If you notice these symptoms, immediately take down any backyard feeders and toss remaining food, then clean out the feeder with a bleach mixture, then call the state veterinarian at (505) 841-6161.

Poultry farmers can protect their flocks by moving food and water sources to locations inaccessible to wild birds, and by securing coops to prevent wild birds from visiting. Avian flu is primarily spread through contact with infected feces, so an uncovered water or food vessel makes for easy transmission. Free testing is provided by the state veterinarian to anyone who reports bird flu in their flock.

Dry air and hot temperatures may mean that this strain of avian flu doesn’t last long and will be over by June. Unfortunately, those conditions won’t help our state in dealing with historic wildfires. The human cost of these fires is devastating—homes and businesses engulfed by flames, entire lives turned upside down, death, and no easy solutions to be found. Community solidarity and the valiant effort and courage of firefighters from across the country offer a silver lining to the destruction. These fires give us an opportunity to help not just our neighbors, but the birds that connect us as well.

If you live near any of the affected communities, you’ll notice more birds at your feeders—refugees fleeing the flames and seeking new places to nest or rest on their migratory route. Consider putting out extra seed and suet to offset the increase in hungry visitors. If you’re making homemade suet, the recipe I provided in our January issue (https://questanews.com/bird-is-the-word-january-2022/) works great for the summer since both shortening and beef suet have high melting points.

Birdbaths make your backyard an oasis, and while flowing water is preferred, even a simple, shallow ceramic bowl placed in the shade will give a reprieve to weary birds.

Please note that symptoms of smoke inhalation can overlap with symptoms of avian flu, so if you’re seeing uncommon birds behaving weakly it’s very likely they have inhaled smoke and are not infected. Again, you can contact the state veterinarian at (505) 841-6161 or call the local New Mexico Game and Fish office at (575) 445-2311 to learn if avian flu has been confirmed near you.


  • Bryce Flanagan

    Bryce Flanagan moved from Sacramento, CA to Taos County in 2016, and has lived in Questa for two years. He's passionate about the unique and beautiful wildlife of our state and is a regular contributor to the Questa Del Rio News.

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