Avian flu: clean your bird feeder now

Avian flu: clean your bird feeder now

If you have backyard birds in your yard, take your feeder apart, said Louise Sagaert, director of the Wildside Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit in Eaton Rapids, Michigan.

Earlier this year, federal officials detected highly contagious flu in wild birds in more than 30 US states, the largest bird flu outbreak since 2015.

The illness is caused by a flu virus, said Megan Moriarty, wildlife veterinary specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.


“We see a lot of disease and death in wild birds and domestic birds,” Moriarty said.

“Unfortunately there are no very specific clinical signs, it could look like a lot of other things,” Moriarty said.

Bird flu signs:

  • To cough
  • To sneeze
  • Diarrhea
  • Discharge from the nostrils
  • Abnormal position of the head and neck
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Infected birds may also show no signs, Moriarty said.

The flu spreads through direct contact, but can also spread through indirect transmission, Moriarty said. This means that if an infected bird touches a shared food or water source, a bird can get sick.

Bird feeders are a shared food source for wild birds and no bird feeder is safer than another, said Louise Sagaert, director of the Wildside Rehabilitation Center.

“Feeding tubes cause more contagious problems than hopper ones,” she said.

“The problem with hopper feeders is that they tend to attract more types of birds and the congregation of birds is larger than in tube feeders,” Sagaert said.

A decrease in the use of bird feeders could lead to a decrease in bird seed sales.

Kate Furtaw, owner of Wildbirds Unlimited in East Lansing, said she hasn’t noticed a drop in birdseed sales, but an increase in feeder cleaning.

If you’re willing to clean your bird feeder often with a 10% bleach solution and you don’t have backyard birds like ducks or chickens, it’s safe to keep your feeder to birds outside, Sagaert said.

Contrary to what many people believe, stopping when feeding birds is not a hardship.

“Although it looks like the birds are surviving the feeders, it’s just a treat, and they’re certainly able to survive on their own without our help,” Sagaert said.

It’s possible for the flu to spread through objects like car tires or boots, Moriarty said.

“You should dedicate clothes and boots to the area where your backyard birds are,” Sagaert said. “Don’t carry these things around the house, especially if you have indoor birds.”

“You shouldn’t go from chicken coops to the wild bird feeder,” Sagaert said.

And if you must, bathe your shoes in bleach.

More research is needed to fully understand bird flu transmission, Moriarty said.

“We know it’s probably related to the movement of migratory birds, which is why we see it so much now during spring migration,” Moriarty said. “The virus is emerging in the United States. In Michigan, we’re in the Mississippi flyway, and so along with many of our neighboring states like Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois, we’re seeing a lot of cases. »

“It has the potential to impact humans, but fortunately there have been no human cases in the United States of this highly pathogenic influenza virus strain, which is good news.”

We all need to be careful because flu viruses often have the ability to cross species barriers, Moriarty said. Mammals can catch the flu, Moriarty said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the general public has a low risk of contracting bird flu.

“It’s a pretty big outbreak that we’re going through right now,” Moriarty said. “It’s been going on for quite a long time with no current signs of slowing down.”

With the migration slowing down, the hope is that the spread of the flu will decrease, Moriarty said.

The best thing you can do to prevent the spread of the flu is to keep your wild birds and domestic birds separated from each other and to practice good hygiene like washing your hands frequently if you touch birds, Moriarty said.

“The general public should not handle sick or dead wild birds,” Moriarty said. “Report any sick or dead birds to the DNR so we can take them and test them.”

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