JEFFERSON CITY - As the Spring turkey hunting season approaches in Missouri, hunters are warned to keep an eye open for dead or sick birds in the wild as bird flu spreads closer to the United States.
"We tell all hunters to use common sense practices in the wild," says Andrew Forbes, wildlife ecologist and bird expert for the Missouri Conservation Department.
Forbes says dead birds found in the wild, or anywhere, should not be picked up unless the person has rubber glvoes on.
"Plans for hunters are essentially unchanged until further notice," Forbes says of the Conservation Department's message for the upcoming hunting season.
The official policy of the department when a dead bird is spotted is to contact an agency employee or a federal natural resource agency if a sick or dead bird is found.
Questions are being raised regarding the procedures when finding dead birds in the wild that have seemingly died from a disease due to the increasing number of avian flu-infected birds being found throughout Europe and Asia.
At what point should all dead birds found in the wild be tested in the United States, or more specifically, in Missouri?
Forbes said that the Conservation Department always has tested birds found in the wild that have obviously died from disease.
"There has always been other diseases common among birds that we test for, not just avian flu," Forbes says. "Since an avian flu strain has yet to be found in the United States, no testing out of the ordinary has been done yet in Missouri."
Forbes includes water-based birds and eagles among those frequently tested when found dead. He says water-based birds are the ones most likely to contract bird flu.
Since an avian flu strain has not been found in the U.S., Forbes is unsure of future plans for upcoming bird hunting seasons in the fall and winter. Those hunting seasons include waterfowl, pheasant, quail, and turkey. Spring hunting season for turkeys begins on April 24.