According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), the bird flu is a highly contagious virus that can be spread in various ways from flock to flock, including by wild birds, through contact with infected poultry, by equipment, and on the clothing and shoes of caretakers.
Nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys have been slaughtered in 26 states to limit the spread of bird flu during this year’s outbreak. Officials order entire flocks to be killed when the virus is found on farms.
The avian influenza has also been found in 637 wild birds, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bird flu can spread among wild birds, specifically those who congregate, like vultures or eagles at a kill site. To keep birds – and yourself – safe, you may want to reconsider doing things that encourage the animals to gather.
“Any of these birds that congregate are susceptible, particularly waterfowl,” said Brian Roell, a biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “I know some folks that live on lakes and like to put out some corn and watch those birds, but this would be the year for the safety of the birds and your own safety that you’re not attracting that waterfowl to your yard.”
Roell said avian influenza is not typically seen in songbirds, but it is possible that it could be spread at backyard bird feeders. He suggested skipping the feeders this year. With warmer weather moving in, birds are able to find their own food sources.
Other wildlife officials agree. “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 birdbaths,” said Dr. Victoria Hall, executive director and veterinary epidemiologist at The Raptor Center.
Hall said her recommendation is temporary while we wait for the spread of the virus to slow. “We have it in our power to take a short-term action so we are not accidentally assisting in the virus’ spread. This outbreak won’t last forever and I, for one, am greatly looking forward to when I can safely hang my bird feeders back up!” she wrote on Facebook.
For those who do keep backyard flocks, including birds like chickens or turkeys, Roell suggested monitoring how you feed your birds.
“You would want to make sure your chickens are not associated with any wild bird. So if wild birds are able to feed from the same trough or pail that your domestic chickens are, that would be something you’d want to stop right now for the safety of your own birds,” said Roell.
More than 600 wild birds with avian influenza have been detected in 31 states, according to the CDC’s latest data. Two cases have also been found at U.S. zoos.
The problem is far more widespread with poultry – more than 27 million birds have been affected so far. Some commercial flocks as large as 5 million chickens have been slaughtered in an attempt to curb the spread of the highly contagious virus.
While the virus poses a substantial threat to birds, the CDC emphasizes it currently poses little risk to the public. People who work with affected birds are at a higher risk, as they are exposed to the animals’ feces and saliva. Even when a human does contract the virus from close contact with an infected bird, the person-to-person spread is “very rare,” the CDC says.
You shouldn’t fear consuming poultry or eggs as a result of the bird flu either, says the CDC. Both should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as always, to kill any bacteria or viruses – including this influenza.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.