The worst bird flu pandemics are preying on seabirds. This isn’t the first time Europe has heard of bird flu (or flu). The virus, which affects poultry, began to be detected in wild species in the early 2000s and spread through the birds’ migratory routes.
Since then, a large number of bird deaths have occurred from time to time. Lives mainly in wetlands throughout the continent. And more or less seasonal. However, in 2021, the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus spread to seabirds. This created an unprecedented situation that continues to this day.
The rapid development of a disease without borders
In the summer of 2021, as humans slowly emerge from the worst epidemic of the last century, seabirds are also beginning to face their own epidemic. The death of several giant skuas in the Scottish colony from the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus has sounded alarm bells.
That same winter – as explained in a CMS-FAO report last July – there was a massive die-off of white-faced geese in wintering areas in the UK. The virus was discovered in North America and began to spread rapidly across the continent.
In early 2022, there are also large numbers of bird deaths across Africa, such as the Juji National Bird Park (Senegal). One of the most important bird sanctuaries in the world.
In the spring of 2022, the virus had a disastrous impact on scarlet pelicans, gannets and terns (the worst-affected sandwich tern) in Europe. It has been calculated that less than half of the breeders return to their wintering grounds after breeding.
In late 2022 and early 2023, the virus reached the southern part of the American continent for the first time in history, affecting a large number of species, including marine mammals. In just four months in 2022, 22,000 birds will die off the coast of Peru, especially Peruvian pelicans. In early 2023, thousands of sea lions are stranded.
The remainder of 2023 does not bring any improvement. Seabird habitat continues to be devastated by the flu. In Europe, while its impact on gannets appears to be less severe, the habitat of black-headed gulls has been affected. Recently, kittiwakes and guillemots have been the most susceptible to the virus, and their rapid expansion and adaptation to new hosts is of concern. The worst bird flu pandemics are preying on seabirds.