Dead birds in CK nothing to crow about

Crows in Chatham. (File photo by Natalia Vega)

Several dead crows found in the Chatham area recently appear to have died from a virus, according to health and wildlife officials.

Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby told CK News Today it appears the crows are dying because they’re infected with orthoreovirus.

Dr. Colby said there is no evidence that this virus is capable of jumping to humans like the H5N1 avian influenza, which has been circulating in wild birds in North America for the past year.

Colby said people should not touch dead crows, unless they’re wearing the proper safety gear.

“We do not recommend that the public handle sick or dead wildlife. If people need to clean up carcasses, we recommend wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as disposable gloves, surgical mask, and eye protection as a precaution,” said Colby.

He noted cases of sick wildlife can be reported to local wildlife rehabilitation centres.

University of Guelph wildlife pathologist Dr. Brian Stevens agrees with Dr. Colby. He said autopsies on the dead birds showed the crows appear to be dying from an orthoreovirus infection.

Stevens told CK News Today the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC), based at the university, has received about a half dozen dead crows from Chatham-Kent for testing so far.

“We are still waiting on additional laboratory testing to confirm this infection, but the findings on necropsy and microscopically are consistent with this disease,” Stevens said. “This virus will cause severe disease and death in crows, often during the winter months. It typically will cause a mass die-off in a certain geographical region and depending on the number of crows present, can circulate for weeks at a time.”

Stevens said a die-off like this as a result of this virus usually happens every few years and similar cases have appeared in Woodstock over the past few weeks.

He confirms this virus poses no danger to public health. However, Stevens noted that one of the crows from Chatham-Kent that died in this die-off in December was positive for avian flu (H5N1).

He said the avian flu is still circulating and warned that people should be cautious when finding any dead wildlife.

Stevens is asking people to leave the animal where it is and contact someone who will instruct them if additional steps are required on their part.

“It is recommended that when a member of the public finds a dead wild animal, they do not handle it but instead contact either us at the CWHC to report the finding or the local municipality/humane society to collect the animal(s),” he said. “We only recommend that a member of the public handle a dead wild animal if they have been instructed to by us or another agency and they are wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and taking other necessary precautions.”

Stevens added the same goes for injured and sick wild animals, adding the public should contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or humane society for advice in these situations.

He also mentioned the health of our pets should be of concern because many different wild animals, such as foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, etc. have been infected during this current avian influenza outbreak.

“People should keep their dogs and cats away from these dead wild animals as well,” said Stevens.

The public can contact CWHC at 1-866-673-4781 or The university’s online reporting tool is