April 15, 2022 – Heads up, bird lovers: Some experts are urging you to temporarily take down backyard feeders to contain an outbreak of avian influenza.

Victoria Hall, DVM, executive director of The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, said any gathering of birds increases the chance that the disease will spread.

"Taking down your bird feeder just for a little bit is just like not going to the bar in the middle of a COVID surge," she told TV station KMSP.

People can put their feeders up later, Hall said, noting that the weather is warming, which helps to reduce the spread of bird flu.

"During these unprecedented times, we recommend doing anything that we can to try and help our wild bird populations. Because the science is unclear on the role of songbirds in this current H5N1 outbreak, one consideration is to not encourage birds to gather together at places such as bird feeders or bird baths," she said.

The current bird flu outbreak has been detected in more than 600 wild birds in 31 states and 27 million poultry birds in 26 states, the CDC reported. There have been no reports of human infection in the United States this year.

Christopher Sharp, a population management biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Ontario, said he’s not urging people to take down their bird feeders yet but encouraged them to take precautions.

People should also clean their feeders more frequently, he told Poultry Producer, an online resource for the global poultry industry. Feeding waterfowl is discouraged, and nobody should feed birds by hand, he said.

“Feeding encourages wild birds to congregate around a food source and can increase the probability of transmission among wild birds,” Sharp said. “We do still consider the use of bird feeders as safe, but they should be removed from areas that are open to poultry or other domestic animals.”

Elizabeth Walsh, a wildlife biologist in Nova Scotia, told CBC last month that she favors taking down bird feeders to reduce chances of birds catching the flu.

"We can protect birds by not using backyard bird feeders," she said. "Removing feeders will help stop the virus from spreading. I do realize people enjoy their feeders. However, as a bird lover, we also want to be making sure that … our wild populations are safe."

Bird flu, also called highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), is a viral infection spread from bird to bird. The most common kind of bird flu is the H5N1 strain.

It's mostly a threat to birds and doesn’t spread easily among people, but there was a major outbreak of bird flu in people in 2014. The very few cases of human-to-human transmission were among people with very close contact. Migrating waterfowl – most notably wild ducks – are the natural carriers of bird flu viruses.

About half a million chickens were destroyed in Nebraska last month because bird flu was found in a commercial poultry facility, the state Department of Agriculture reported.

Show Sources

KMSP: “Don't feed birds this spring!”

CDC: “Prevention and Antiviral Treatment of Bird Flu Viruses in People.”

Poultry Producer: “Bird feeders are OK but keep wild birds from backyard chickens as avian flu spreads in Ontario: experts.”

CBC: “Bird feeders can help spread deadly avian flu, cautions N.S. wildlife biologist.”

Nebraska Department of Agriculture: “Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Detected in Commercial Flock in Nebraska.”

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