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A highly pathogenic version of bird flu that has arrived in Alberta is grounding plans for any Edmonton Valley Zoo visitors hoping to see feathered friends.

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The zoo’s birds — including peregrine falcons and other birds of prey, emus, the pelican and chickens — have been transferred indoors or moved to habitats with outdoor space protected by mesh to keep out wild birds that could spread the virus, veterinarian Dr. MJ Limoges , told Postmedia. The Urban Farm was temporarily closed earlier this month while the move was taking place.

“The concern from my point of view is people, whether it’s staff or visitors, walking on zoo grounds where they’re potentially walking in wild birds’ poo and then walking into areas where we have some of our collection birds and potentially transmitting the virus that way,” she said.

Those who work with the animals are taking their own set of precautions. Staff either change their footwear to dedicated shoes for each specific bird enclosure or use a disinfecting solution on their footwear before walking in.

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The zoo has not seen any signs of disease but Limoges said staff are aware of what to keep an eye on and are monitoring the grounds for dead wild birds. There’s no specific timeline for when the zoo’s birds could be accessible to the public again.

“I’m hoping, and this is just hoping, that once the migratory season is mainly over there won’t be any newly reported cases in domestic birds and then we can feel that the danger has receded at least until the fall migration,” Limoges said.

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Remove bird feeders

Meanwhile, an expert in wild birds is suggesting Albertans close their bird feeders for the season.

Mark Boyce, a University of Alberta professor and the Alberta Conservation Association’s chair in fisheries and wildlife, said removing feeders now that the weather is warmer will help prevent birds from congregating and spreading the virus through close contact.

“Now, during migration, we’re getting all these different species showing up which is kind of fun, but there’s a really high risk of transmission at the bird feeders,” he said.

“Also the bird feeders should be cleaned to make sure that the disease isn’t there.”

Anyone with domestic chickens also needs to do everything they can to keep them away from wild birds, he said.

“If you’ve got poultry, bringing them in at night for sure and minimizing the chances that they might come in contact with wild birds … because once it gets into the chickens, it’s all over,” he said.

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