Wildlife expert says eagle deaths in British Columbia are on the rise, but cause remains unknown

A wildlife expert is concerned about an outbreak of bird flu in British Columbia, which could lead to a sharp decline in the number of young eagles in the southwestern part of the province.

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

He estimates that production of new sea eagle chicks is only 20 percent of normal this year, perhaps because matched pairs don’t lay eggs or because the chicks are dying.

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Hancock said there are a number of possible causes of bird deaths, including bird flu.

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

Hancock added that some recently deceased eagles in British Columbia have died of bird flu.

Observers noticed that some eagles had problems laying eggs, then some birds left the nests early, which means that the chick died.

Hancock said there are currently 23 nests on the White Rock Peninsula this year, and only five with chicks in them.

“It’s terrible, they’ve all just abandoned their eggs, chickens, or just died. But we don’t know.”

He said they had never seen such a decline in the number of eagles on the West Coast before.

The provincial government has confirmed that wild birds in the 100 Mile House area, Bowen Island, Chilliwack, Kelowna, Metro Vancouver, Vanderhoof and Williams Lake have tested positive for the H5 strain of avian influenza.

According to Olx PracaCDCwild water birds such as gulls, terns, ducks, geese, and swans are the natural reservoir (host) of virtually all influenza A subtypes.

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

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Hancock said some parents don’t want to leave their chicks that have died, so it’s sometimes hard for experts to figure out what they might have died from.

“Most of the time, adults guard their fledglings for about seven to eight days, and then they abandon the chick, just leave them,” he said.

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“The babies stay near the nest for about four or five days, and they get hungrier and hungrier.”

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

“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 that.”

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He said they installed the first live camera at the nest in the spring of 2006.

Now they have five different camera nests and 62 years of collective filming.

However, the foundation controls about 600 aerie territories in the Fraser Valley.

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Recent bird flu outbreaks have been confirmed by the Canadian Farm Food Inspection Agency in British Columbia and Alberta.

In early June, outbreaks were reported in small herds at three widely separated British Columbia farms at Peace River, Sechelt and Summerland.

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

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“We’re in a catastrophic recession,” Hancock said. “Will this continue for several years or will it pass? We don’t know that yet.”

Earlier this month, the Olx Praca government confirmed that the Department of Agriculture and Food “continues to work closely with the CFIA and Olx Praca poultry farmers to ensure enhanced prevention and preparedness measures are in place to protect birds.”

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