Six ducks were found dead in Winthrop after apparently contracting the highly-infectious avian flu.

The hooded merganser ducks were found dead in Mill Stream in Winthrop, and lab tests later confirmed that the birds had contracted the H5N1 avian influenza, according to Mark Latti, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The H5N1 avian influenza, a deadly disease that was first identified in Maine in a small flock in Knox County in February 2022, has had the state on high alert for the past year. Keepers of backyard poultry flock have been urged to take every precaution to prevent its spread.

H5N1 is carried by flying wild waterfowl like ducks, geese and shorebirds. While it does not typically kill wild fowl, it causes severe symptoms in domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, ducks, pheasants, geese and guinea fowl.

So far in Maine it has been found in both domestic and wild birds. The disease has been found in flocks in Hancock, Knox, Lincoln, Penobscot, Sagadahoc, Waldo, Washington and York counties.

Symptoms include swollen heads, blue coloration of combs and wattles, lack of appetite, respiratory distress and diarrhea with a significant drop in egg production. These symptoms are particularly severe in chickens and turkeys.

Only one person has contracted a confirmed case of avian flu, and recovered after experiencing mild flu-like symptoms.

Domestic bird keepers can protect their flocks by making sure coops and runs are protected and inaccessible to wild bird populations, among other steps.

If there is any question about the health of an individual bird or entire flock, it is crucial to report those cases to state officials by calling 866-536-7593.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.