A raven on the Ingraham Trail in October 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Social media posts about dead or dying birds have prompted the Northwest Territories government to remind residents to report such sightings to officials.
On Tuesday, the NWT’s Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) said on Facebook it had received reports of dead birds throughout the territory.
“If you see a wild bird (or any wild animal) acting strangely or find one dead, do not touch it,” ECC wrote, adding that residents should report sightings to their local ECC office or WildlifeVeterinarian@gov.nt.ca right away.
While the Facebook post seemed to imply yet another eerie situation unfolding in the NWT, territorial wildlife veterinarian and chief veterinary officer Naima Jutha said there hasn’t been an uptick in dead wildlife.
Jutha said the post was a response to indications that people had seen dead or struggling birds, particularly over the weekend when thick smoke in parts of the NWT turned the sky a deep orange, entirely blocking out the sun at times.
Though ECC staff have been approached about such sightings and come across them on social media, Jutha said there has not been an increase in dead animals being submitted to ECC offices. There also hasn’t been a higher-than-usual number of reports to staff about dead wildlife, which typically come in a few times per week.
“I did speak to our officers today, and they said that there hasn’t been any dramatic change in the calls that they’re getting,” she said.
Jutha said the post was intended to inform people about who to call and what to do if they notice a sick or dead animal.
“I think it’s great to post on Facebook,” she said, while adding it’s also important to get in touch with ECC, either through a local renewable resource office or via email. She urged people not to touch or approach dead or sick animals.
Jutha said reporting dead or sick wildlife helps the territory with ongoing disease surveillance and health monitoring. She said the territory’s Wildlife Health Program relies heavily on reports from the public to better understand the kinds of health pressures wildlife are facing and develop appropriate responses.
In the best-case scenario, Jutha said, after receiving a report, ECC staff would collect the animal, evaluate it and send tissue for testing to determine what might be behind any potential uptick in wildlife mortalities.
Jutha noted that wildfire smoke can potentially affect animals’ health, just as it does that of humans. The territory is also still monitoring for bird flu, she said. Since 2021, a highly contagious strain of avian influenza known as H5N1 has killed or infected millions of birds across Canada, the CBC reported in April.
“Knock on wood, we’re doing great here in the territory,” Jutha said, referring to avian influenza.
“Throughout this outbreak over the last couple of years, we’ve only had three positive cases. Those were all in 2022.”
She said monitoring for bird flu will continue, and she’ll “certainly be keeping in touch” with wildlife officers in case new reports of dead birds emerge.