**We all want to do what is best for the birds and it can be concerning to hear reports of a disease that may affect the beautiful animals we treasure and care so deeply about. Only you can make the decision as to what the correct action is for the birds in your yard. Our commitment is to provide you with the best possible information amidst the overwhelming number of opinions on this topic. This situation is always changing and we will update this page as new data and recommendations become available.**
What is Avian Influenza H5N1?
Avian Influenza is, according to the US Centers for Disease Control, a “disease in birds caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses”.
- Avian Influenza occurs naturally in wild aquatic birds, and can infect domestic birds and other bird and animal species.
- Infected birds can spread the disease through their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces.
- There are two categories of Avian Influenza (AI): Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI), which causes mild disease with few symptoms, and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which causes severe disease and high mortality in domestic birds and some mortality in wild birds.
- The 2022 Avian Influenza strain is the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza subtype H5N1.
- Geographic spread of the virus can happen during migration.
- To view up to date HPAI distributions in map format:
https://inspection.canada.ca/animal-health/terrestrial-animals/diseases/reportable/avian-influenza/hpai-in-canada/status-of-ongoing-avian-influenza-response-by-prov/ai-zones/eng/1648851134912/1648851359195 - Canadian map
- Songbirds are much less susceptible to HPAI and are not thought to play a significant role in spreading this virus. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is not recommending removal of bird feeders at this point.
- The risk to the public is low and human infections are rare. Only one case of HPAI has ever been detected or recorded in the USA, in a person involved in domestic poultry operations. The person was mildly ill and has recovered.
- Only one case of H5N1 has ever been recorded in Canada, a fatal case that was travel related.
- The Government of Alberta is actively testing for H5N1 on dead birds and in bird surveys of species that are most likely to show signs of the disease: waterfowl, shorebirds, and birds of prey.
- View the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative results for up-to-date statistics on H5N1 and H7N1 tests in Canada.
What to do – according to the experts?
- There is no need to stop watching, attracting, and enjoying wild birds in your yard. The use of backyard bird feeders is safe and there is no evidence that backyard bird feeding poses any threat to humans or the birds that visit your feeder.
- Feeders should be removed from areas that are open to poultry and other domestic animals (eg: poultry farms, backyard chickens and yards where ducks or geese may gather under feeders).
- Clean your feeders and bird baths regularly (once a week) with 10% bleach solution.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after filling, cleaning, or handling your feeder.
- Do not feed birds by hand.
- Do not handle or touch sick or dead birds.
- Report sick or dead birds to the Alberta Environment and Parks Office at 310-0000, they will give direction on how to proceed in your specific circumstance.
- Signs of Avian Influenza in birds:
• nervousness, tremors or lack of coordination
• swelling around the head, neck and eyes
• lack of energy or movement
• coughing, gasping for air or sneezing
• diarrhea or
• sudden death
Information compiled from the following sources:
- Dr. Victoria Hall, DVM, MS, DACVPM, of The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine has written an article outlining her position that bird feeders should be taken down as a precautionary measure because they are a gathering space for songbirds. “With minimal viral surveillance being done with songbirds, it is hard to measure the risk of transmission from songbirds to other birds.”
- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has commented on the above recommendation with these comments:
“The DNR is aware of the recommendations put forth by the Raptor Center with UMN and our own guidance, at this time, has not changed. We have not received any confirmed reports of songbirds affected by this strain of avian influenza. DNR guidance aligns with recommendations by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the leading authorities on this disease. We do recommend individuals clean their bird feeders regularly, as this helps protect birds against other infections, such as salmonella. Our best practices for cleaning bird feeders are available on our website."