Why Zoos Are Moving All Their Birds Inside

Because of avian flu, penguins are the only birds many visitors can see
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 7, 2022 3:58 AM CDT
Zoos Across America Are Moving Birds Inside
A sign is displayed at the Milwaukee County Zoo showing the bird exhibits are closed to protect against bird flu Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Milwaukee.   (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Zoos across North America are moving their birds indoors and away from people and wildlife as they try to protect them from the highly contagious and potentially deadly avian influenza. Penguins may be the only birds visitors to many zoos can see right now, because they already are kept inside and usually protected behind glass in their exhibits, making it harder for the bird flu to reach them. Nearly 23 million chickens and turkeys have already been killed across the United States to limit the spread of the virus, and zoos are working hard to prevent any of their birds from meeting the same fate, the AP reports.

It would be especially upsetting for zoos to have to kill any of the endangered or threatened species in their care. "It would be extremely devastating," says Maria Franke, who is the manager of welfare science at Toronto Zoo, which has less than two dozen Loggerhead Shrike songbirds that it's breeding with the hope of reintroducing them into the wild. “We take amazing care and the welfare and well being of our animals is the utmost importance." Workers at the zoo are adding roofs to some outdoor bird exhibits and double-checking the mesh surrounding enclosures to ensure it will keep wild birds out. Birds shed the virus through their droppings and nasal discharge.

When bird flu cases are found in poultry, officials order the entire flock to be killed because the virus is so contagious. However, the US Department of Agriculture has indicated that zoos might be able to avoid that by isolating infected birds and possibly euthanizing a small number of them. Among the precautions zoos are taking is to keep birds in smaller groups so that if a case is found, only a few would be affected. The National Aviary in Pittsburgh — the nation's largest—-is providing individual health checks for each of its roughly 500 birds. Many already live in large glass enclosures or outdoor habitats where they don't have direct exposure to wildlife, says Dr. Pilar Fish, the aviary's senior director of veterinary medicine and zoological advancement. (More bird flu stories.)

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