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B.C. Eagle Deaths Are Rising, Wildlife Expert Says, But Cause Unknown


A wildlife expert fears the outbreak of avian flu in British Columbia is contributing to a dramatic drop in the number of young eagles in the province’s southwest.

David Hancock, director of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, monitors several hundred eagle nests between White Rock and Squamish.

He estimates that this year the production of new eagle chicks is only 20% of normal, possibly because the corresponding pairs are not laying eggs or the chicks are dying.


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Hancock said there are a number of possible factors in the bird’s death, including bird flu.

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Other factors could be rodent poisoning to make way for more blueberry fields or a declining salmon population or a combination of all of these factors.

Some recently deceased eagles in British Columbia have been confirmed to have died of bird flu, Hancock added.

Observers noticed that some eagles struggled to lay their eggs, then some birds abandoned the nests early, meaning the baby died.

Hancock said this year there are currently 23 nests on the White Rock Peninsula and only five with young.

“It’s devastating, they’ve all just left their eggs, their chicks, or they’ve just died. But we don’t know.

He said they had never seen such a decline in eagles on the west coast before.

The provincial government has confirmed that wild birds in or near 100 Mile House, Bowen Island, Chilliwack, Kelowna, Metro Vancouver, Vanderhoof and Williams Lake have tested positive for H5 strains of avian flu.

According to the BCCDC, wild waterfowl, such as gulls, terns, ducks, geese and swans, are the natural reservoir (hosts) for virtually all influenza A subtypes.

However, the organization said the strain rarely causes fatalities in the wild and is generally low pathogenic. It can spread from these birds to domestic poultry where it becomes highly pathogenic.

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Hancock said some parents are reluctant to leave their chicks dead, so it’s sometimes difficult for experts to examine what they might have died of.

“In most cases the adults keep their newly born chicks for about seven, eight days and then they drop the chick, they just leave them,” he said.

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“The kids stay around the nest site for about four or five days and they get hungrier and hungrier.”

He said they usually follow their relatives north to northern British Columbia and Alaska to feast on the dead salmon there.

“So we have a very small window between August and September when there are no eagles in the Fraser Valley,” Hancock added. “Most people don’t recognize it.”

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He said they placed the first live broadcast camera in an eagle’s nest in the spring of 2006.

They now have five different nests with cameras and 62 years of collective footage.

However, the foundation monitors about 600 eagle nest territories in the Fraser Valley.


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Recent outbreaks of avian flu have been confirmed on farms in British Columbia and Alberta by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

In early June, outbreaks were declared in small flocks on three very remote farms in British Columbia at Peace River, Sechelt and Summerland.

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Another commercial outbreak was reported in Langley Township on June 8, bringing the total number of infected farms in the province to 16.

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“We have a devastating decline,” Hancock said. “Is this going to continue for a few years or is it going to get better? We do not know yet.

Earlier this month, the BC government confirmed that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food “continues to work closely with CFIA and BC poultry producers to ensuring that enhanced prevention and preparedness measures are in place to protect poultry flocks.”

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