What does it mean for your backyard birds?

It looks like the birds can’t rest. Last year, a mysterious disease killed thousands of songbirds throughout the eastern United States. Now, a particularly severe strain of the bird flu virus (the cause of the “bird flu”) is on the rise across the country. The bird flu virus mainly infects birds, which can be transmitted to each other through contact with other birds or their droppings. This year, the virus has been found in more than 800 wild birds and 36 million domestic poultry in the United States. Although people can be infected with the virus, it is rare. So far, only one human case of this outbreak has been confirmed. So what does this mean for backyard birds? Should you do something different to help keep wild songbirds and chickens safe?

Courtesy of Anne Readel

Need to disassemble bird feeders and waterers?

Many of us enjoy watching songbirds visit our feeders and waterers. But when a disease outbreak occurs, one of the first questions we ask ourselves is, “Should I get them out?” In the case of bird flu, there have been some conflicting messages.

The University of Minnesota Raptor Center and at least three states (Michigan, Illinois and Montana) have recommended removing feeders. But other states have not followed suit. And the major wild bird organizations, including Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, have not issued a comprehensive guide, saying only that you should follow the local agency’s recommendations. If you’re confused about what to do, you’re not the only one.

Bryan Richards, coordinator of emerging diseases at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, is helping to clarify the situation. He says you can choose to disassemble your bird feeders and waterers “as a precaution.” However, he points out that songbirds appear to have a low risk of infection.

“The virus is having a substantial impact on wild birds,” says Richards. But it mainly infects waterfowl, shorebirds and carrion-eating birds such as birds of prey, not songbirds. This year, two blue boys and 30 crows have tested positive for bird flu, which includes a very small proportion of confirmed cases. During the last bird flu outbreak in 2014 and 2015, only one European starling and one starling tested positive.

So why aren’t songbirds at high risk of catching the virus? It all makes sense when you think about how the virus is transmitted, says Richards. Waterfowl and shorebirds are natural hosts of the virus and are transmitted to each other by pooping in the water. When an infected water bird dies, a predator can make a food out of it and become infected during the process. However, because none of these birds visit the feeders, the songbirds that attract the feeders do not come in contact with the virus.

Not all situations are the same, though. If you live next to a pond with geese and ducks or next to a large poultry commercial facility, then birds visiting your feeders “may be at greater risk,” says Richards. This is because living so close to high-risk birds makes them more likely to catch the duck, goose, or chicken virus and then transmit it to other songbirds in feeders.

So what about those organizations and states that say they are eliminating feeders until the virus is gone? Richards points out that when you delve deeper into their recommendations, they generally do so as a precautionary approach as well. For example, Michigan told residents they might want to remove bird feeders “from a precautionary abundance site … but it’s not yet a critical step.”

If you decide to leave your feeders and drinkers out, be sure to clean them regularly. “Although [avian flu] Transmission in these backyard feeders or drinkers is a low risk proposition, there are many other pathogens, “says Richards. Regular cleaning of feeders and drinkers with a bleach solution makes” a lot of sense at all levels. ” .

Courtesy of Anne Readel

Should You Care About Your Backyard Chickens?

Although songbirds have a low risk of infection, this is not the case with chickens in your yard. “The virus hits chickens very quickly,” says Casey Ritz, a professor and poultry extension specialist at the University of Georgia. Millions of domestic chickens have died from bird flu in recent months. Although most deaths have occurred in commercial facilities, herds in the backyard are also at risk.

“The first thing people notice is that their chickens look healthy one day and the next day they’re dead or dying en masse,” Ritz says. Infected chickens can also show a variety of other signs, such as coughing and combing and discolored combs.

To keep the backyard herds healthy, Ritz points out that it is very important to “minimize interactions with sick birds” and take some basic biosecurity measures. This means that you should not visit other herds or share equipment with your neighbor who also raises chickens. When taking care of your flock, wear a pair of dedicated shoes and clothes. And if you want to bring new chickens home, be sure to buy them from an NPIP-certified source, which means the chickens have been tested free of bird flu and other infectious diseases.

The birds in the backyard are very happy. It makes sense to take extra precautions while bird flu is being wiped out, especially for backyard chickens. Since it’s always a good idea to clean feeders and waterers regularly, why not start this practice now? Exercising just a few extra precautions can help keep bird flu and our friends with healthy feathers at bay.

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