By Kate Raddatz

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The highly-contagious avian flu is having a devastating impact on Minnesota raptors.

The University of Minnesota Raptor Center has reported 23 positive cases of bird flu in bald eagles, red tail hawks and great horned owls. Those numbers are from the last three weeks.

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Great horned owls are a special site at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, if you’re lucky enough to see them.

“They’re just very majestic and gorgeous,” said Minneapolis resident Kelly Kellner. “You always know when the babies are here and where the owls are at. Everybody let’s everybody else know.”

But the community is mourning the loss of a beloved family of owls that lived in a tree near the lake. Some of the owls died from bird flu, while others had to be put down because they were too sick when they were brought in.

“The word I would use is devastating,” said Dr. Victoria Hall, the Raptor Center’s executive director. “These birds are coming in having incredible seizures, they’re unable to stand, they’re vocalizing. They’re kind of in end stages of this virus.”

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Great horned owls (credit: CBS)

The Raptor Center has set up a new triage and quarantine center to take care of sick birds coming in. This time bird flu has killed millions of domestic poultry, but is also having a major impact on wild birds like owls, eagles and hawks.

“We have not seen this much transmission to raptors before in a highly-pathogenic avian influenza outbreak, so this is pretty concerning,” Dr. Hall said.

Of the raptors testing positive at The Raptor Center, 90%-100% of them have not survived because they are too sick. Some organizations are not able to take sick birds in. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota announced they are not currently admitting susceptible species for treatment.

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The virus is extremely contagious to other birds. Though rare, the virus can spread to humans. The last highly-pathogenic avian flu outbreak in Minnesota was in 2015.

Kate Raddatz