Bird handling during the COVID-19 pandemic
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) issues permits for bird-handling activities including bird banding, rehabilitation, aviculture, and relocation. These guidelines apply to bird handling authorized by ECCC on scientific permits to capture and handle migratory birds.
During the pandemic, and before proceeding with any bird handling activity, you must determine if your operation will comply with all public health and/or occupational health guidance from federal, provincial/territorial, and local authorities within the relevant jurisdictions, as well as any institutional policies regarding field activities.
Before proceeding, consider if bird handling at this time is critical to your research or if it can be postponed. Consider also whether you are still able to ensure a high level of bird safety and data quality while reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread.
Should you deem that you are able to continue, please note that access to some federal, provincial, territorial and municipal lands has been suspended, and so verify that you have current agreement to access your field locations including private lands. Refer to your provincial or territorial and municipal authority website for the most recent information for your area.
Current scientific knowledge indicates that it is unlikely that birds would be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, mammals may be more susceptible to the virus. Mammals are sometimes caught incidentally during bird banding operations. Extra care is needed to avoid the risk of infecting mammals with the SARS-COV-2 virus, especially as it might then spread through a population. Banders should take extra precautions to avoid capturing or handling any mammals at this time. Bird banding activities that have a high likelihood of mammal interactions should follow the protocols below or not take place at this time.
Recommendations for handling birds during the pandemic:
- do not go to the field or handle any animals if you are feeling sick or have any symptoms that could be attributable to COVID-19, including coughing, fever and difficulty breathing
- employ enhanced hand-washing and/or hand-sanitation procedures
- regularly disinfect equipment and surfaces
- limit the number of people handling each animal and plan field operations accordingly
- use masks and gloves when handling birds if it is feasible and practical to do so
- establish dedicated field clothes and equipment, and if possible leave those at the field site (i.e. banding station) or separate from other gear
Recommendations for interactions with mammals:
- prepare a contingency plan for how to address any possible encounters with mammals prior to initiating banding operations
- do not operate during times or locations that may increase human or equipment contact with mammals (e.g., bats, squirrels, mustelids, felids)
- if you are having problems with mammals harming birds in your nets or traps, contact your provincial or territorial and municipal wildlife authority for guidance on addressing the threat, or else discontinue operations
- handle bats and other mammals only when essential
- wear gloves (if not available, wash hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) before handling any mammal
- wear a mask (surgical–grade if available, if not use a cloth mask)
- get training for proper use of all protective equipment
- disinfect all equipment that could come in contact with wild mammals
- follow the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative guidance on bats
- Public Health Agency of Canada information about COVID-19 or contact the Government of Canada’s information line at 1-833-784-4397
- Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative COVID-19 page
- The North American Banding Council (NABC) special notice to bird banders regarding banding birds during the pandemic
- Non-medical masks and face coverings information
- World Organization for Animal Health FAQs on COVID-19
- Guidelines for Working with Free-Ranging Wild Mammals in the Era of COVID-19 Pandemic
- US Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center bulletin
- Curated literature hub for tracking scientific information on COVID-19
- Fact Sheet: Guidance on Precautions for the Handling of Wild Birds
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