Close to 100 birds at Harrison Park have been euthanized due to an Avian Influenza outbreak, while six residential swans have been quarantined and are being monitored.
An order to dispose of the 96 birds and waterfowl at the park was issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency after positive test results of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) came back on Monday. On Thursday morning, the CFIA attended the park and proceeded to humanely euthanize the birds, the city said in a release.
The city’s director of parks and open spaces Adam Parsons said early Thursday afternoon that it was a very tough day for park staff. Birds have been kept at the park since 1921.
In total, 96 birds had to be euthanized, including domestic pheasants, ducks, geese and peafowl species, Parsons said.
The six swans were spared after the city submitted a special request to the CFIA to have them quarantined in a separate facility with monitoring for disease to continue. The swans at the park are descendants of the original six swans that were gifted to then city mayor Elias Lemon from King George V in 1912.
“While we’ve been able to establish a safe alternative for the residential swans at Harrison Park, we’re deeply saddened to hear of the required euthanization of the other domestic birds at the Park – they’ve been an important part of the park for many decades,” Major Ian Boddy said in the release. With the unique setup of the park’s bird sanctuary being open to wild birds, we understand the CFIA is taking a proactive approach to preventing the disease from spreading any further.”
Avian Influenza is a disease caused by a virus that primarily infects domestic poultry and wild birds like geese, ducks and shore birds. H5N1 is a strain known to kill both wild birds and commercial poultry. It does not easily cross from birds to humans and the current strain has been listed as a lower than normal concern for spreading to people, it said in the release.
The CFIA has been responding to cases of H5N1 in farmed birds across the country. Since late 2021, new cases of the virus have been spreading around the globe, leading to bird deaths and the culling of several million poultry and egg-producing birds in Canada.
City staff first started to notice symptoms of the virus in birds at the park on Friday. Their symptoms included tremors and difficulty holding up their heads, and eventually death. There is no way of treating infected birds. Some geese and a duck had died, Parsons confirmed on Tuesday.
When the symptoms were noticed, a local veterinarian was contacted and it was quickly determined that the CFIA should be notified. The CFIA attended the park, did an inspection and a perimeter fence was installed around the sanctuary.
City staff continue to work with and take direction from the CFIA with respect to managing the outbreak, Thursday’s release said.
While the CFIA’s mandate doesn’t include the testing of wild birds, residents who locate a wild bird that is deceased are encouraged to report it to Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative, which has an online reporting tool at http://www.cwhc -rcsf.ca/report_and_submit.php or by calling 1-866-673-4381. The Ontario Wildlife Emergency Hotline can be reached at 1-800-567-2033.
Parsons said Tuesday that some wild birds had died inside the open area of the bird sanctuary, but he was not aware of any wild birds found dead in any other areas of the city.
To prevent the spread of Avian Influenza, residents are encouraged to report sick or dead birds to the agencies, do not touch or feed wild birds by hand, clean backyard feeders and baths regularly using a weak solution of domestic bleach and water, and separate domestic and wild birds where possible.