WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) — The SPCA serving Erie County is gearing up for a tough season as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, a variant of bird flu, closes in on our area.

This strain started in Europe a couple of years ago but has been moving up the east coast and is now as close as Orleans County.

The highly contagious disease is carried by waterfowl, like geese and ducks, which spread it when they migrate, along with gulls, blue jays, and more.

While the waterfowl don’t typically die from it, animals like chickens, hawks, and eagles die within days of showing symptoms.

Wild birds start to come into the hospital in May and the SPCA will still treat them using caution.

They plan to separate the species to quarantine them and staff will wear full PPE.

If there is a positive case, the SPCA would likely have to shut down for 30 days and couldn’t take in new animals.

Wildlife director Barb Haney said it’s just a matter of time before we see this show up in Erie County.

“The worst-case scenario is that we’re gonna affect some of the domestic poultry farms these wild animals, we don’t want any of our volunteers bringing it back to their backyard flocks. We’d like to see people not have to say goodbye to their pets in the form of their backyard flocks so we just wanna be really careful that we’re not spreading anything,” Haney said. “This also goes to birders as well. You’re walking through some of the feces, you are carrying those fomites and those viruses wherever you’re walking.”

The last outbreak in the U.S. was in 2015 causing the depopulation of millions of turkeys. This strain is different as it’s also impacting wildlife and made it to the East Coast.

Haney said if your backyard chickens or poultry start dying or even if you see a group of dead birds in nature you should contact the DEC.

The SPCA needs to know about any possibility of cases in the county.