Hunters advised to watch for turkeys infected with virus

When Maine turkey hunters head into the woods in the coming weeks, state officials have advised them to be on the lookout for birds that have been infected with a virus that causes lesions on the turkey’s head and leg.

That virus — Lymphoproliferative Disease Virus, or LPDV — has been recently detected in the state’s turkey population, and is thought to spread between birds through direct skin contact or through mosquito bites.

Notice: I said, “thought to spread between birds.” Brad Allen, the DIF&W’s bird group leader, repeatedly pointed out that people need not be concerned about contracting the virus.

A turkey with lesions caused by LPDV. (Photo courtesy of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife)

“It’s a bird virus that doesn’t have human consequence and concern, but it’s a virus that we’ve been tracking,” Allen said. “We’re asking people to keep an eye out for it. If you see a really infected bird, I wouldn’t recommend shooting it. You could maybe pass on that bird and shoot one that’s not infected.”

The state’s wild turkey season kicks off on Saturday with Youth Turkey Day, which is open to junior hunters who have turned 10 and have not reached their 16th birthdays. Adult hunters can join in starting Monday during a season that lasts until June 1.

Allen said the virus was first detected in the U.S. in 2009, and is thought to have originated in Europe, where it has been detected in domestic turkey flocks.

“It showed up in Georgia in 2009, and then it really made its way up the East Coast very quickly,” Allen said. “We’re not sure it spread that quickly. We think we just started diagnosing it here [and it may have existed, undetected, for some time].”

Allen said the virus wasn’t documented in Maine birds until 2012.

“We started aggressively looking for it this winter when turkeys congregate and people were calling us, saying that they had sick birds in their backyards,” Allen said. “I’d say we’ve probably got a dozen confirmed cases and we’ve probably handed 20 different birds.”

Birds that are infected may have mild or more severe lesions on the featherless parts of their faces and legs. In some cases, the extent of the infection is quite gruesome, and hunters will likely be reluctant to feed their families with those birds. In some cases, the lesions have been so severe that the bird’s eyes have been covered with the sores. In those cases, the birds typically die.

Allen said that if hunters shoot a bird that turns out to be infected, they should make a phone call or two before reporting to the tagging station.

“We ask people that if they do shoot one that is heavily infected that they contact a game warden or a biologist before they register it, and I’m sure the warden will probably say, ‘If you’re inclined, go out and shoot a different bird. Just don’t register this,'” Allen said. “If you register the animal that kind of takes some of the decision-making out of the hands of the wardens and the biologists, so it would be better to present it before you tag it.”

Allen said he and fellow DIF&W biologist Kelsey Sullivan have talked about the virus and that Sullivan thinks the optimum nesting conditions of 2011 and subsequent mild winter exacerbated the spread of the disease because the population likely grew and more birds were congregated close together.

The DIF&W says hunters who shoot a wild turkey with face or leg lesions should call one of the following numbers: (Ashland) 435-3231, (Bangor) 941-4466, (Enfield) 732-4132, (Gray) 657-2345, (Greenville) 695-3756, (Jonesboro) 434-5927, (Sidney) 547-5318, (Strong) 778-3324.


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.