Mass mortality incident of vultures at Loudoun County landfill attributed to highly pathogenic avian influenza

A mass mortality incident of vultures at the Loudoun County landfill in Leesburg, Va., last week has been attributed to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), according to Glen Barbour, spokesperson for Loudoun County.

The incident was posted about on social media Saturday.

That post stated, “There seems to be a mass casualty event at the Loudoun County Landfill of vultures. At least 20 dead black and turkey vultures in a 100 feet, some rather recently and some maybe a few days old.”

“I can confirm that the staff at the Loudoun County landfill observed a higher-than-usual mortality involving vultures and that per their normal protocol, they reported the incident to the USDA,” stated Barbour. “I am told that a USDA representative attributed the situation to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.”

HPAI, also known as bird flu, is extremely contagious and because vultures are communal, they’re very susceptible to the disease.

Other HPAI-related mass mortality incidents of vultures in recent months include Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Md., and on an uninhabited island in Millersville, Md.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tracks the nationwide distribution of HPAI cases on its website – 2022 Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.

Not all birds that died from HPAI are included on that distribution list – some die in the wild and are never seen. Many birds that were seen at wildlife rehabilitation facilities are also not on the USDA’s distribution list.

In other cases, such as these mass mortality incidents, they often don’t show up on the USDA’s list until weeks later.

Regarding the incident in Millersville, Jessica Hackett, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, stated, “Please continue to monitor the USDA/APHIS website for additional information.  It may take a few weeks for the information to be posted.”

Like vultures, double-breasted cormorants are also communal and they too have died in large groups in recent months, including in Illinois and Massachusetts.

The USDA HPAI distribution list, as of June 28, has entries for 167 bald eagles, as well as a lot of other birds of prey and waterfowl – the total list HPAI distribution list for wild birds is 1,635 entries currently and each entry can include multiple birds.

Update (10/12/2022) – The USDA APHIS 2022 Detections of HPAI in Wild Birds webpage now shows entries for multiple black vultures impacted by HPAI in Loudoun County during this time period. A Facebook post dated August 30 from the person who originally reported the die-off at the landfill states, “Update: talked to the VA Department of Wildlife. They did test a corpse and it is the Avian flu. The landfill was informed yesterday that the dead birds should not be left laying around or run over with a mower (yes, it happened) …”

Update (6/30/2022) – according to Dr. Jennifer Riley, hospital director of Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Boyce, Va., “I am the hospital director at one of the largest wildlife hospitals in our state, serving the Loudoun County area. In VA, we are not allowed to have the rapid tests in house – all testing must be done through the state (VDACS) and reported to USDA before it is posted to the site. I have spoken directly with VDACS, USDA, DWR, and Loudoun County Animal Services about this case. The vultures found at the landfill were too decomposed due to the heat to be tested and they are hoping to find other birds to test in the area at some point. I think there may have been a miscommunication or misunderstanding when USDA spoke to Loudoun County officials. Perhaps they suggested HPAI as a differential and it was taken at the cause. The agencies involved in this specific investigation were not able to test.” (NOTE – SEE MORE RECENT UPDATE ABOVE)

Update (6/30/2022 – according to Tanya Espinosa, spokesperson for the USDA, “Birds are tested in the field and then sent to the lab for additional testing. If it has been confirmed as HPAI by the laboratory, it will be posted here:

Donna L. Cole is an award-winning multimedia and investigative reporters. She’s also a bird of prey rescuer.

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