Three California condors have died of bird flu in northern Arizona and authorities are trying to determine what killed five more in the herd, the National Park Service announced Friday.
A sick female condor with suspected lead poisoning was found dead March 20 and tests showed it had highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), the park service said.
Two other birds found dead later also tested positive, the park service said, while test results are not yet complete for five others.
The Park Service said the birds are part of a group moving across northern Arizona and southern Utah, including Grand Canyon National Park.
The Peregrine Fund, which manages the Arizona-Utah flock, also caught five other birds that appeared sick and sent them to a Phoenix wildlife rescue. Officials said one bird died and the other four were placed in quarantine.
Exposure to the virus is expected to increase during the spring migration of condors north.
According to the Park Service, HPAI has not been detected in other populations in California or the Mexican state of Baja California.
Avian influenza occurs mainly in birds including domestic chickens, but has been found in other animals, both wild and domestic, in all US states except Hawaii.
Humans are considered to be at low risk of HPAI, although there have been reported infections.
The California condor is one of the largest birds in the world with a wingspan of up to 10 feet (3 metres). Birds have been patrolling the skies from Mexico to British Columbia. Condors can live for 60 years and fly great distances, which is why their range can extend to several states.
The population was reduced to the brink of extinction in the 1970s due to hunting, habitat destruction, and lead poisoning from lead-eating animals.
In the 1980s, wildlife officials captured the last remaining 22 condors and took them to zoos in San Diego and Los Angeles to be protected and raised in captivity. The birds were then released to reserves and national parks where they could be observed.
The birds have been protected as an endangered species under federal law since 1967 and California law since 1971.
The California condor has returned to the wild and now occupies parts of the Central Coast of California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico. The wild population now numbers more than 300 birds.
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