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Weather Radar Technology May Help Track Bird Flu

November 30, 2016

The same weather radar technology used to predict rain is now giving veterinary researchers the ability to track wild birds that could carry the avian influenza virus. The virus, which causes bird flu, kills chickens, turkeys and other birds, resulting in significant economic loss to the poultry industry. In 2015, the United States experienced its worst bird flu outbreak in history, resulting in the depopulation of over 48 million birds in 15 states, including California. 

“By tracking mass bird movements remotely in real-time, we hope to gain novel strategic insights with respect to surveillance and prevention of Avian Influenza transmission to domestic poultry,” said Dr. Todd Kelman, a veterinarian and engineer who co-leads the project with cooperative extension specialist Dr. Maurice Pitesky.

In California, waterfowl migrate by the millions from September through March via the Pacific Flyway where they winter in wetlands, rice and corn fields. The Central Valley alone is home to three million birds at the height of migration.

The project—funded by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources—is a collaboration with Jeff Buler at the University of Delaware, the U.S. Geological Survey, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Poultry Federation and the Pacific Egg and Poultry Association.