By Melinda Munson

The Skagway Bird Club’s rescue group began seeing high numbers of sick or dead crows the second week of July, according to Elaine Furbish, biologist and club member.  

“American crows and a few Steller’s Jays were seen with wobbly heads, unable to coordinate walking or flying, or letting people get too close without reacting, and a rash of dead birds were reported,” she said. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (F&WS) has been investigating the spread of a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Alaska, assisted by Alaska Fish & Game and the Alaska State Veterinarian Office in the Environmental Health Division. Dead birds suspected of having Avian Flu are tested for the presence of the virus by the state lab. The “highly pathogenic” in the name refers to being contagious to other birds, not humans, but there have been a very few cases of people getting sick, Furbish said. 

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park agreed to coordinate the gathering of some of the dead birds for testing. The park sent five American Crows, one Steller’s Jay and one Rufous Hummingbird to the F&WS Anchorage lab.

“Please be careful around any birds,” Furbish said. Call Skagway Police Dispatch at 907-983-2232 to notify the bird rescue group. They will monitor sick birds and dispose of dead birds.”

“Residents should use caution around birds that may have the Avian Flu – especially people with domestic chickens or other birds. If you must handle a carcass, wear a mask and gloves, double-bag the body and don’t step too close to where the dead body was found,” Furbish added.

Most outbreaks pass within two to three weeks, so Skagway is probably over its outbreak. 

“The F&WS would appreciate hearing if we see any more birds that might be affected or find more dead birds with no apparent sign of injury. They would be particularly interested if we see any bald eagles that seem to be affected,” Furbish said.