Bird flu in Iowa for a few more weeks

Wild Turkey
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Elyse Gabor | December 7, 2022

Bird flu has been sweeping through Iowa and it is here to stay. According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the most recent case of the virus was found at a Buena Vista County commercial turkey facility. Around 40,000 birds are in that facility. 

Fall and this time of year are when the state sees the most bird migration, usually leading to flocks becoming infected with the contagious bird flu. This was the third case detected in Iowan backyard flocks.  

Waterfowl, like geese and ducks, have also been detected with the virus as hunters have tested them. Orrin Jones, the DNR’s waterfowl biologist said, “It’s very difficult to predict the prevalence of avian influenza based solely on waterfowl activity.” He went on to say, “How common is it out there? What types of birds is it affecting? This new strain is affecting a wider range of species and having a wider range of effects than previous strains. There’s still a lot of uncertainty.” 

About 53 million birds have been killed by the avian influenza, this year in the U.S. This fall, the pathogen was detected in five flocks, leading to the deaths of over two million birds. Although deadly to birds, the virus is not a significant health risk to humans.  

Bird flu arises in Midwest states during migration

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Grace Smith | October 11, 2022

The large number of birds migrating south for the winter may be transmitting avian influenza, a deadly virus caused by infection. Although it has not been confirmed, two dead wild geese in September and three ducks shot by hunters in August all had the bird flu in Iowa. 

The bird flu dates back to 1878 which started in northern Italy and was referred to as the “fowl plague.” In the spring of 2022, the bird flu wiped out 22,851,072 birds in at least 24 states. The spring was the worst famine outbreak since 2015 when over 50 million birds died. The outbreak and inflation drove up prices for eggs, chicken meat, and other products. 

“We are certainly aware of the cases showing up in other states and are monitoring the situation closely,” Don McDowell, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “Because migration is beginning again and given that this is caused by migratory and wild birds, it would not be unexpected that there could be additional cases this fall.”

With over 450 birds expected to continue migrating south through the U.S., the most heightened intensities of migration are likely to come through the Midwest.

More monarch butterflies are migrating this year

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 26, 2021

More monarch butterflies are migrating to the western U.S. as wintery weather appears in other parts of the country, a sign of habitat loss slowing.

In the past 20 years there has been a more than 80 percent drop in the amount of monarchs that migrate, according to the National Wildlife Federation in 2018. Others speculate the numbers have fallen more than 99 percent. Over a million butterflies used to make the trip in the late 1900s, but now only thousands make the trek. The numbers are picking up significantly in 2021, NPR reported, with more than 100,000 monarchs hitting California already.

The endangerment of monarchs has occurred over the past few years. National Geographic charges humans and man-made climate change as the reason why this is happening. There are projections for monarch numbers to drop drastically in the next 20 years, leading to definite extinction.

Increases in carbon dioxide levels impacts the growth of milkweed plants—monarchs only food source as caterpillars. The plants are becoming too toxic for the caterpillars to consume, so the insects die off before metamorphosis. Planting milkweed is a way to help save monarch butterflies from extinction alongside decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Another reason for this is monarchs are being shaped differently because of climate change. The wing size of the butterflies is changing. The mutation helps monarchs travel longer, but the lack of food could kill off the butterflies before the increased wingspan could help or harm the species.

The increase in monarchs migrating this year is a good sign, but it doesn’t take monarchs off the endangered species list yet.