Bird Flu Claims Over 100 Black Vultures in New Jersey

The vultures have been dying since early August, and represent similar bird deaths happening around the country.

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Over 100 black vultures were found dead on the Sussex Branch Trail in Lafayette, Sussex County, New Jersey. The deaths have apparently been occurring since early August, and avian influenza (also known as bird flu) was the confirmed cause of death.

In a statement, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife said that black vultures seem to be very susceptible to bird flu. The reason, their innate tendency to scavenge. For this case in Sussex County, the vultures would scavenge on the carcasses of previously infected dead vultures, which can then prolong the outbreak of the flu since the scavenger would continue to prey upon infected birds or animals.

These vultures have been left to decompose on site due to “rough terrain causing accessibility issues and a lack of personnel in the state to handle infected birds,” as reported in the NJFW statement. The environmental agency also mentioned that improper handling of the carcasses can lead to further spread of the virus. Gizmodo reached out to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regarding more birds scavenging on these carcasses, but at time of publication, haven’t heard back. The trail these birds were found on will be closed until further notice.

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‘Bird flu’ is caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. This virus occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds and can infect other bird and animal species, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recently, there’s been surging cases of a dangerous strain of the virus in the United States that’s caused millions of birds to die.

​Around 700 black vultures died after contracting the bird flu at a sanctuary in Georgia, which then caused the sanctuary to euthanize almost 30 other birds. In Maryland, officials are reporting that more than 100 black vultures have died from the virus this year, maybe more, but a total count isn’t possible because the birds can get infected and die where people are unable to find them.

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Chances of the bird flu being transmitted to people are extremely low. The CDC states that there have been rare cases of human infection with some bird viruses, and when people were infected it was most often due to close or lengthy contact with the infected bird.

As for the case of the black vultures dead in New Jersey, The New Jersey Department of Agriculture and NJFW said that they are monitoring the situation.