ITHACA, N.Y. — The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) this week announced a suspected outbreak of bird flu at the Reynolds Game Farm, a DEC-operated farm in Ithaca that breeds and releases pheasants for hunting programs.
The DEC began investigating, following suspicious pheasant deaths on March 20, and initial test results indicated a possible outbreak of the H5N1 avian influenza virus. DEC is now working closely with animal-health experts at the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory to determine next steps at the game farm.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a strain of the influenza virus that primarily affects birds including commercial and backyard poultry flocks. Circulating in wild birds in North America since early 2022, HPAI was previously confirmed in wild birds in Tompkins County, where the game farm is located. According to the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), there have been four reported cases of HPAI in Tompkins County so far this year. The affected birds were a crow, several Canada geese, and a snow goose.
Wild birds can be infected with HPAI and show no signs of illness, according to APHIS. Those birds carry the disease when migrating and spread it via their droppings or nasal discharge, potentially exposing domestic poultry.
The game farm uses rigorous biosecurity protocols, including fencing and overhead netting to prevent large birds like hawks, owls, ducks, geese, and gulls from getting into the pens. Staff also conduct regular disease surveillance.
The pheasant flock at Reynolds is a USDA National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) certified flock. The NPIP is a state-federal cooperative testing and certification program for poultry breeding flocks that includes surveillance for AI, pullorum disease, fowl typhoid, and other infectious diseases.
The DEC will work with its partners to provide a swift and thorough response to the suspected outbreak.
The incident does not present any immediate public-health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPAI cases in humans are rare and symptoms are typically mild. The risk of any people becoming infected is low.
In operation since 1927, the Reynolds Game Farm is the state’s only pheasant production facility, according to the DEC website. The game farm breeds and distributes pheasants statewide for two different programs. The birds are released on land open to the public for pheasant hunting.
The game farm has an annual operating budget of $750,000 and has four full-time permanent staff and up to 10 additional temporary staff members during its peak season.