A snow goose in flight. (Photo: Steve Hillebrand, USFWS)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has received confirmation of the presence of avian cholera in snow geese that were sent for laboratory testing.

The disease was expected to show up in Tennessee after being recently reported in Kentucky.

The Tennessee geese tested were found dead in Lauderdale County in the western part of the state, where large populations of snow geese often gather as they migrate along the Mississippi River flyway. Smaller numbers occasionally show up during winter and migration seasons in east Tennessee.


TWRA sent the dead geese to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia, who contacted the agency Dec. 22 to confirm the presence of the disease.

Avian cholera is a bacterium that can be transmitted from bird to bird, through contact with secretions or feces from infected birds, or from ingestion of food or water containing the bacterium. Infected birds tend to die quickly from the deadly disease, also known as fowl cholera. Geese, ducks, coots, gulls and crows are among the birds that are susceptible.

“One of the concerns about avian cholera surrounds the carnivores that scavenge on infected animals’ remains,” Roger Applegate, TWRA wildlife health program leader, said in a prepared statement. “The disease is contagious and can be deadly to animals that consume infected birds.”

Applegate also noted that although the disease has been confirmed only in snow geese, TWRA has also received mortality reports on white-fronted geese and several duck species, but none of those have yet been confirmed as being infected with cholera.

TWRA is searching for more dead geese on its wildlife management areas and waterfowl refuges. Applegate said agency personnel will collect and safely dispose of animals found.

Although avian cholera can infect poultry, according to the National Wildlife Health Center, this particular strain of cholera most often impacts wild birds.

Sick birds appear lethargic and may die within minutes when captured. Other signs include convulsions; swimming in circles; throwing the head back between the wings; erratic flight and miscalculated landing attempts; mucus discharge from the mouth; soiling or matting of the feathers around the vent, eyes and bill; pasty, fawn-colored or yellow droppings; or blood-stained droppings or nasal discharge.

“We just don’t know if this will be a small outbreak or turn into something larger, but we will be watching it every day and closely,” Applegate said. “We are also hoping all the rain taking place will help flush the water and dilute the bacterium.”

Applegate said waterfowl hunters should use caution when cleaning birds.

“Wear gloves and of course do not consume any birds exhibiting symptoms,” he said. “If waterfowl hunters are finding dead birds on private property, they should also collect them and either burn the remains or bury them deeply.”

If hunters or property owners find a large quantity of dead geese or other waterfowl, they are requested to notify TWRA by email at [email protected].