During the winter, it's common for animals like deer and geese to venture out onto the Missouri River when it's still icy. Some of the waterfowl have been out there longer than anticipated along sections of the river.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks officials say the birds contracted the avian flu. FWP communications manager David Hagengruber said it's a possibility that during the severe weather we had not too long ago, flocks got closer together for warmth, making a virus easier to spread. The avian flu has been known to be in Montana since last March.
"It's just been ongoing. It's been spreading through the state," Hagengruber said. "I think the main impact that most people notice is the domestic birds, the poultry, chickens, turkeys, things like that. Really, anywhere where we have open water right now, the wild waterfowl are concentrated there, which is a perfect way to spread the disease when they're concentrated and piled in on each other.
The disease spreads quickly there."
Avian influenza is a disease that primarily affects birds, but has been known to be transferred to mammals, which is why they say do not let dogs near the birds as they could be contaminated with the flu and pass it on. As far as collecting the geese, FWP is not planning to collect them and will let them be until the ice melts.
"They died all through the summer as well, but they decompose quickly when it's 90 degrees out," Hagengruber said. "They don't decompose at all when they're frozen into the ice. So they're real visible for people, especially here along the trail, along the river."
The river ice is too thin and dangerous. They also say they are not concerned about tainted water and explained that avian flu has not been known to be contracted through water, but rather close contact with infected specimens.
"Really, anywhere where we have open water right now, the wild waterfowl are concentrated there, which is a perfect way to spread the disease when they're concentrated and piled in on each other. The disease spreads quickly there."
Residents have been concerned about the geese being stuck in the ice and staying there.
"I was so concerned. I've lived here 40 years and have never seen anything like this," Great Falls resident Terry Giles said. "I called the police because I thought did anybody shoot these geese? Nature can be bad, but it's definitely a one of a kind situation that's just popped up here at Great Falls. And I don't know anybody else I've talked that has seen this before."
More than 56 million birds have been affected across 47 states. In Montana, there have been at least 80,000 domestic birds infected with the disease. Click here to read more on the state website.
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'High School House'; Fitness Challenge
(1st REPORT) Several people have contacted KRTV in recent days to ask about dead geese along or in the Missouri River. We received the following message:
- I don’t know if you received any reports of the dead and dying geese along the river? From my birding friends, there sounds like there are at least 60 down. FWP has been notified, but it will be interesting to hear what they determine the cause to be; of course avian flu is the top suspect, since we are not having terrible weather.
- Hello. I’m inquiring about all the dead geese that are laying on the ice in Great Falls by the central west Bridge and River Drive. Across from the new construction. I’ve never seen a goose really not survive the winter, but there’s not at least 15 laying dead on the ice there.
Reporter Asher Lynde is investigating and trying to get information from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. We will update you once we get details.