At the tribal council offices, he was on the phone, checking in with hunters. "Got any birds?" he asked Peter, who goes hunting just about every day except Sunday.

He peeled the paper packaging around a long swab and inserted it into an eider through its cloaca, a combination genital, intestinal and urinary tract. Mann put the swab, now covered in a greenish white goop, into a vial.

As Peter's 4 year old son, Quentin, danced around with a plastic light saber, Mann repeated the procedure for the other birds.

Mann's son, Danny, a lanky 27 year old who used to work as a bilingual parent liaison for the school, took on the job of bird flu testing manager in Kipnuk for the tribal health agency, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. He gets $15 for every bird he samples.

No roads lead here. The closest Wal Mart is nearly 500 miles away. The flatland that spreads out between the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers is so riddled with lakes and creeks that it looks like Swiss cheese from the air. The slate gray Bering Sea is only a few miles away.

Mann threw on a jacket, grabbed a blue Nike duffel bag and headed out. As a light drizzle enveloped the village, he strode across the boardwalks that lie across the marshiest parts of town. The hollow sound of his steps echoed in the still afternoon.

Mann climbed up the steps to Peter's porch and dug into a pile of common eiders, pintail ducks, a shoveler and a Canada goose.

Federal officials have identified 29 bird species that are most likely to carry the deadly virus from Asia, and they have enlisted local hunters to help provide birds for testing.

´╗┐Alaska villagers living in bird flu flight path

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Except for a few doctors that fly in each year to give villagers checkups, outsiders rarely visited this outpost of scattered gray plywood Canada Goose Citadel Parka Nz Sale homes and prefab structures plopped in the middle of the tundra.

The 800 Yup'ik Eskimos in this wet and lonely village knew the situation was serious when government scientists began swooping in on bush planes.

"If it's going to show up in wild birds, Alaska is the most likely place where it's going to happen," said Brian McCaffery, a federal wildlife biologist who was camped a few miles down the coast from Kipnuk collecting bar tailed godwit droppings for testing.

The coastal location is one reason health officials chose Kipnuk as one of 10 villages for testing. The other main reason is the vigor of its hunters.

Soon, latex gloves appeared on store shelves and Wild West style posters started popping up around town: "Wanted: Birds of the Delta." Researchers camped out in the town's tribal council offices, preparing for trips to nearby Kwigluk Island with vials, swabs, nets and needles.

Mann snapped on a pair of surgical gloves and started filling out a form on the birds.

In the old days, the Yup'ik Eskimos felled the uqsuqaq, metraq and kanguq with bows and throw sticks tipped with sharpened walrus ivory.

Now, the men use 12 gauge shotguns and reach remote hunting spots in motorboats.

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"It's kind of scary, you know," said resident Ronnie Peter, 39. "That's like, our food, you know."

Kipnuk villagers hunt intensely through the summer, stocking up on birds, which they usually roast into a crispy meal or boil into a soup made with onions, rice and macaroni. Peter keeps two freezers stuffed with various birds some plucked, some not.

"Oh Lord, what are we going to eat? Store bought food?" thought Steven Mann, who oversees tribal operations in town, when he first started receiving faxes on bird flu safety in the spring.

Little else has changed until now.

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Mann said he swabbed as many as 300 birds in the first round of sampling in May. In September, he collected about 50 samples. To get more hunters involved, the health agency raffled off a 55 gallon drum of gasoline for each round of testing, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the summer. Villagers got one raffle ticket for each bird they turned in.

They came bearing a warning: The wild birds that the Yup'ik have hunted for millenniums may be carrying the first traces of the deadly bird flu virus from Asia into North America.

"How many?" Danny Mann asked. "Can I come over and check them?"

The residents of Kipnuk, which means "bend in the river" in Yup'ik, are a little bewildered that their speck of a village has been drawn into the battle against the bird flu virus.

Mann headed back to his mother's house, where he crept under the front staircase and lifted the lid of a white canister filled with liquid nitrogen. As cold white vapors curled out, he dropped in his handful of vials, which he would send away for analysis.

The nervousness has waned through the summer, said the 58 year old ex Army sergeant, but still, "We don't joke about what we eat here."

Kipnuk lies at the crossroads of an invisible freeway system linking migratory birds that journey along the East Asia Australia flyway with those from the Pacific Americas flyway.

Tens of millions of birds flock every year to this seemingly endless expanse of soggy land in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge to feast on insects, grasses, worms and mussels before heading back south in the winter to Asia, Australia and other parts of the Americas.

The H5N1 avian influenza emerged in China 10 years ago and has since spread into Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Though the virus mainly infects fowl, since 2003 it has sickened 256 people and killed 151 around the world.