By Laura Hannot
A small outbreak of bird flu has been recorded at Forvie, a National Nature Reserve in North-East Scotland at the beginning of February.
“The numbers we’re finding would suggest there’s an outbreak but it’s not that severe at this point in time. But it’s more than you’d expect in a normal year,” says Catriona Reid, manager of Forvie.
“There’s a noticeable upswing, but it’s not a big outbreak at the moment.”
While not immediately alarming, it is still a poignant reminder of what the current season could bring with bird flu still around.
Transmittable through bird faeces and saliva, the virus is highly transmittable between birds.
Removing the bodies does not prevent the virus from disappearing, it stays for 90 days in the environment.
The reserve team is expecting bird flu to return to the area for the new season.
Thankfully, the Forvie tern colony escaped bird flu last summer. However, the reserve staff fear the colony of terns could be lost if the colony is hit by the virus.
“Our sandwich terns did great here but we were just waiting for the shoes to drop all summer. We kept thinking we are going to go down one day and there’s gonna be loads of sick stuff staggered around the colony,” says Catriona about the last breeding season.
Scientists over the world fear that bird flu is now present all year round which is a very unusual phenomenon.
“This year, we realised that there were cases of avian flu even in the summer, it is all the time. And scientists have been observing this trend for two years. This is the first time we’ve seen this since we’ve been recording avian flu cases,” says Paule-Émilie Ruy, a PhD student specialising in Avian Flu at ATU.
Last breeding season, the Great Skua, a bird of prey, lost a major part of its population during the summer. It was a surprise for birders.
“It is almost odd that [Great Skuas] would be badly hit because they seem indestructible,” says Catriona.
“For the Great Skua, if we have another summer like we did last year, we could be looking at global extinction of species within five years. About 4% of the world population of Great Skua, was found dead on Fuller in Shetland on one island alone,” says Catriona.
The breeding season of 2023 might push more species on the fence of global extinction.