Avian Flu in the News
*Updated June 2023
Fear about the ongoing Avian Flu outbreak has led many to assume any sick or injured bird to be a victim of Avian Flu. At this time there still isn't any evidence that birds who frequent backyard feeders are susceptible to Avian Flu.
We are diligently monitoring the situation to provide the best and most up-to-date information, resources, and advice for backyard bird feeders. The effects on/from songbirds and our recommendations on feeding have not changed. The owners and staff at your Colorado Springs Wild Birds Unlimited are committed to the safety of our customers and wildlife and we will continue to provide updates as appropriate.
Your safety and the health of birds and wildlife are our primary concern. We're always happy to talk through any questions or concerns you have, so feel free to call, email, or drop by the store if we can help with anything. We also heard some limited reports of House Finch Eye Disease in our area back in early October 2022, please see our information on that disease here and feel free to call or visit the store if you have any questions.
We are actively connected with wild bird and health experts to keep our customers informed of any developments that could affect safe backyard bird feeding practices. You can monitor reported cases in Colorado and across the United States on the USDA's website here.
What is Avian Flu?
- Avian influenza refers to the infection of birds with avian influenza Type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide such as ducks, geese, and shorebirds.
- The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada currently deem this outbreak to be of low human health risk.
- No human avian flu infections have occurred in North America as a result of the current outbreak in wild birds.
- As of April 2023, only one person in the U.S. has tested positive for avian influenza and developed mild symptoms. That case did occur here in Colorado back in April 2022. According to the CDC this case occurred in a person who had direct exposure to poultry and was involved in the culling of poultry with presumptive H5N1 bird flu. The patient reported fatigue for a few days as their only symptom and has since recovered.
- In other countries that experienced past avian flu outbreaks, wild birds have not played a role in the transmission of the disease to humans. Just as in this outbreak, human infections with other avian influenza viruses have only occurred after close and prolonged contact with infected poultry or the excretions/secretions of infected poultry.
Avian flu has been found in aquatic birds, poultry, and in raptors or carrion-eating birds who may have eaten a sick bird.
Avian Flu has been found in a few limited cases in Corvids (Blue Jays, Magpies, Crows, and Ravens) the Corvids who have contracted Avian Flu all appear to have contracted the flu from eating other sick birds, there is no indication that those Corvids contracted it at feeders. In addition, the USDA has reported a total of 5 confirmed cases of Avian Flu in songbirds who were unlikely to have contracted the flu from carrion across the US in all of 2022 and none have been reported so far in 2023, this too indicates that songbirds are not susceptible to Avian Flu and the disease is not at risk of being spread at birdfeeders.
Is it Still Safe to Feed the Birds?
- There is no need to stop watching, feeding, or attracting feeder birds to your yard because of avian flu. We do not recommend feeding or attracting waterfowl.
- There is no evidence humans are at risk of contracting avian flu from backyard birds or bird feeding.
- The backyard birds that visit our feeders appear to be significantly less susceptible and much less likely to become a source for the virus.
- As with any bird or animal, wild or domestic, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions after direct or indirect contact. Be careful around animal droppings or water used by birds and animals; wash your hands after contact with soap and water.
- It’s always a good idea to practice responsible bird feeding on a regular basis. Clean and sanitize all bird feeders, bird baths, and hardware. If you see or suspect a sick bird we recommend a 10% bleach solution (one-part bleach to nine parts water). For normal cleaning, a solution of half white vinegar and half water is a great natural option. Rinse thoroughly and allow to completely dry before refilling feeders and baths.
If you are concerned about Waterfowl or Corvids visiting your feeders there are a few options you can take:
- Use cages or other restriction feeders to keep larger birds off of feeders.
- Stay away from large open tray feeders, especially low feeders that Waterfowl can access.
- Use Safflower or Nyjer, seeds the bigger birds do not prefer, to limit their activity in your yard.
- Clean and sanitize your birdbaths every time you change the water - we recommend doing this every day, especially if you have Corvids who visit as it is much more difficult to exclude them from baths than from feeders.
Both the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Wild Bird Feeding Institute have maintained that it is not necessary to remove feeders throughout the Avian Flu outbreak. Both institutions as well as us at Wild Birds Unlimited do recommend being very diligent about cleaning your feeders and baths.
Our advice on feeders and baths has not changed, there is still no indication that taking down feeders or baths will slow or stop the spread of the Avian Flu as the flu is not being spread in regular feeder birds or by backyard feeders or baths. However, we feel that individuals should determine their comfort level in keeping their feeders and bird baths out and filled. We recommend that you take into consideration the birds who frequent your feeders and do what is right for your situation and your bird populations.
What to do if you have Backyard Poultry?
The flu is contagious to domestic poultry, so please take precautions if you have chickens, ducks, geese, or other poultry or waterfowl at home.
- The disease is transmitted through saliva, nasal secretions, and most easily through feces.
- If you come into contact with other poultry or waterfowl (wild or domestic) be careful not to transfer anything to your backyard flock, especially on your shoes.
- If wild waterfowl come to your property, limit access to large low-tray feeders to prevent them from congregating, and don't feed them directly.
- Feed your domestic flocks indoors to keep wild birds from being attracted to domestic feeders.
- While the Avian Flu has not been found in regular feeder birds we recommend discontinuing feeding wild birds as an added precaution if you have domestic poultry.
- If you do still feed wild birds keep your backyard flocks from foraging under your wild bird feeders.
As occurred last summer, cases of Avian Flu are expected to decrease in the summer as waterfowl finish their migrations and the heavy congregations that occur during the winter and migration periods.
What the experts are saying about the current Avian Flu Outbreak:
Wildlife and health experts say you may continue feeding the birds. Here are the facts as we know them today:
Since Fall of 2021, a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI H5N1) has been detected in numerous outbreaks in North America. It is a naturally-occurring virus especially prevalent among wild aquatic birds such as ducks, geese, and shorebirds and has been shown to affect commercial and backyard poultry with high mortality.
However, according to the Cornell University Wildlife Health Lab, “Passerines [song birds] do not seem susceptible to HPAI and are not thought to play a significant role in spreading this virus. We are not recommending removal of bird feeders at this point.”
And the Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases at U Penn Vet School states, “According to the USDA, there is no evidence that birdfeeders, or the birds that frequent them, contribute to the spread of HPAI.”
"There is currently very low risk of an outbreak among wild songbirds, and no official recommendation to take down feeders unless you also keep domestic poultry" according to the National Wildlife Disease Program.
The US Department of Agriculture further states, “HPAI viruses and the illness they cause are not commonly found in wild birds…removing backyard feeders is not something USDA specifically recommends to prevent avian influenza unless you also take care of poultry.” Also, the Government of Canada affirms, “The use of bird feeders is still safe but they should be removed from areas that are open to poultry and other domestic animals.”
In addition, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Public Health Agency of Canada currently deem H5N1 to be of low human health risk.
Because Corvids can be common feeder birds in our area please do monitor your bird populations, whether you continue to feed or not. If you find three or more dead wild birds in a specific area within a two-week period OR if you see live birds showing clinical signs of disease, please contact your local Colorado Parks and Wildlife office at (719) 227-5200. Avian Flu shows few signs of disease in wild birds, but some common symptoms are lack of energy and confusion.