Bird handling during the COVID-19 pandemic
Recommendations from the Canadian Bird Banding Office
Updated January 2021
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) issues permits for bird-handling activities including bird banding (and associated activities), 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, some mammals are susceptible to the virus and viral replication, recombination and transmission are possible in some species including domestic cats, ferrets, Egyptian fruit bats and mink. 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 wild population. Bird banding activities that have a high likelihood of mammal interactions should follow strict protocols to protect wildlife or discontinue operations. For more information on susceptible species visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website.
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 (that is 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
- if there is any possibility you might encounter bats, please read and follow the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative guidance on bats
- do not operate during times or locations that may increase human or equipment contact with mammals particularly mustelids or bats
- if you are having problems with mammals particularly mustelids or bats, discontinue operations
- handle bats and other mammals only when essential and only with appropriate protective equipment
- 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)
- get training for proper use of all protective equipment
- disinfect all equipment that could come in contact with wild mammals
- Public Health Agency of Canada information about COVID-19 : COVID-19 or contact the Government of Canada’s information line at 1-833-784-4397.
- Public Health Agency of Canada: Animals and COVID-19
- Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative COVID-19 page
- The North American Banding Council (NABC) special notice to bird banders regarding banding birds during the pandemic.
- Information on non-medical masks and face coverings can be found here: Non-medical masks and face coverings: About
- World Organization for Animal Health FAQs on COVID-19
- US Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center bulletin
- Curated literature hub for tracking scientific information on COVID-19
- Bird handling guidelines to address human health and bird to bird transmission for avian influenza: Fact Sheet: Guidance on Precautions for the Handling of Wild Birds
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