Experts are issuing unusual advice – quit filling your bird feeders.
The reason, according to Dr. Victoria Hall with the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, is an “unprecedented outbreak” of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, strain H5N1 in wild birds.
“In areas with HPAI transmission in any avian species, consider pausing the use of bird feeders and baths for the next couple of months until the rate of virus transmission in wild birds dramatically decreases,” Hall said. “Not only will this action help to protect those beautiful feathered creatures that visit your yard, but will also help all wild bird species that are already having it hard this spring because of HPAI.”
All bird species are susceptible to HPAI, Hall said but how they show signs of illness and the role they play in carrying or spreading the disease will vary. The virus is shed in feces and respiratory secretions of infected birds and is able to survive for weeks in cool, damp environments.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of gaps in knowledge about the role of songbirds in HPAI outbreaks. We have some data from previous outbreaks around the world, but this outbreak is very different. The 2022 outbreak is unique because of the very high levels of transmission of the currently circulating H5N1 virus strain in wildlife. With minimal viral surveillance being done with songbirds, it is hard to measure the risk of transmission from songbirds to other birds,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 27 million cases of avian influenza have been reported in backyard and commercial poultry as of April 8th. Another 637 cases have been reported in wild birds in 31 states, including Alabama. The Alabama case was reported Feb. 23 in an American wigeon found in Limestone County.
There have been no cases reported in humans and the CDC said the rusk to most people low. People are advised, however, to avoid direct contact with live or dead wild birds, as well as domestic birds that appear ill or dead.