Avian flu prompts heightened awareness of dead wild birds on P.E.I., but some might just be acting

·2 min read
Kinkora, P.E.I., resident Victoria Potter and her daughter called provincial conservation officials after noticing a goose that hadn't moved for at least three days. They told her the animal was only pretending to be dead. (Submitted by Victoria Potter - image credit)
Kinkora, P.E.I., resident Victoria Potter and her daughter called provincial conservation officials after noticing a goose that hadn't moved for at least three days. They told her the animal was only pretending to be dead. (Submitted by Victoria Potter - image credit)

With the presence of avian flu on P.E.I. and across the country, it's understandable that Islanders might have a heightened awareness about dead wild birds.

But not all birds that appear to be dead are actually dead.

That's a lesson Kinkora, P.E.I., resident Victoria Potter learned recently after calling authorities about what she thought was a dead — or very sick — goose on her property.

"We called Fisheries and Wildlife ... and they told us that the mother goose is actually quite alive. It's just playing dead and being very good at it," she said.

"I was very shocked. I did not know that geese can play dead."

Submitted by Victoria Potter
Submitted by Victoria Potter

There have been 19 cases of avian flu found on P.E.I., and Islanders have been warned by the province to keep domestic birds away from wild waterfowl as they are more susceptible to spreading the viral bird disease.

Garry Gregory, who works with P.E.I. Fish and Wildlife, acknowledges that Islanders might be on high alert for dead birds.

"People might be paying a little bit closer attention and certainly want to call every time they see a bird that they think, you know, could in fact, be dead," said Gregory.

But he notes that it is common behaviour for a nesting goose to be as motionless as possible to reduce the probability of predators attacking her.

"That can involve having the neck and the head down very, very low to the nest remaining almost completely motionless for extended periods of time," he said.

In the case of Potter's suspected dead goose, she and her daughter had been keeping a close eye on it as it lay unmoving on an island in the middle of her pond. After at least three days of no movement, she called provincial conservation officials out of concern for the other birds in her neighbourhood.

Submitted by Victoria Potter
Submitted by Victoria Potter

Gregory said it is a busy time of year for nesting, but the increase in the number of geese that nest in the province and across southern Canada is unusual.

He said traditional breeding grounds for geese are further north and the geese found in this part of the country during the spring are usually only here for a pit stop.

However, he says it's common for roadside ponds, especially ones with islands, to be occupied by nesting geese or multiple pairs of nesting geese.

Despite Potter's experience, Gregory emphasizes that a dead goose, or a suspected dead bird, is still worth a call.

Any sick or dying wild birds should be reported to provincial fish and wildlife at 902-368-4683. Sick or dying domestic birds should be reported to a veterinarian.

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