Avian influenza in wild birds
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)
Avian influenza virus (AIV) is contagious and can affect domestic and wild birds. Many AIVs occur naturally in wild birds and circulate in migratory populations without causing widespread disease. H5N1, a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) that originally evolved in domestic birds in 1996, is now circulating widely in Canada and in many parts of the world. An AIV is designated highly pathogenic when it has characteristics that cause mass disease and mortality in infected poultry. The current strain is also causing widespread mortality in wild birds and occasionally in wild and domestic mammals.
H5N1 HPAI has caused an unprecedented global outbreak in its size and duration. First reported in Canada in December 2021, the virus has since been detected in wild birds in every province and territory.
There have been no human cases of avian influenza resulting from exposure to wild birds in North America. Human infections with avian influenza are rare and almost always acquired through sustained close contact with infected live or dead poultry or contaminated facilities. However, anyone in close contact with infected birds and their environments may be at increased risk of infection. Refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for handling guidelines.
Learn more about:
- Avian influenza dashboard: Latest information on HPAI in wild birds and other wildlife in Canada
- Poster: Prevent the spread of avian influenza in wild birds (PDF)
- Fact sheet: Avian influenza
- Bi-weekly reports on avian influenza in Canada
Signs of a sick bird
Infected birds may show one or many of these signs:
- lack of energy or movement
- nervousness, tremors, or lack of coordination
- swelling around the head, neck, and eyes
- coughing, gasping for air, or sneezing
- sudden death
Reporting sick or dead birds
As a general guideline, do not touch live, sick, or dead wild birds.
Always report sick or dead birds to the relevant authority indicated below. Reporting bird carcasses helps to track avian influenza and allows the provincial/territorial authority to provide advice.
In certain cases, local authorities may recommend that the public safely disposes of dead birds. The disposal of bird carcasses must be done in a sanitary manner by following guidance provided by the relevant authority. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends wearing gloves or using a doubled plastic bag if you must handle wild bird carcasses, and avoiding contact with blood, body fluids, and feces. You should then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or use hand sanitizer. Be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect any tools (e.g., shovel) used in disposing of dead birds with hot, soapy water and then use a household disinfectant.
Report sick or dead birds to:
- in Newfoundland and Labrador, to the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture at (709) 685-7273
- in Prince Edward Island, to the Forests, Fish and Wildlife Division at (902) 368-4683
- in Nova Scotia, to the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables at 1-800-565-2224
- in New Brunswick, to your local office at the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development
- in Québec, to the Ministère de l’Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs at 1-877-346-6763
- in Ontario, to the Ontario regional centre of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1-866-673-4781
- in Manitoba, to the Manitoba Natural Resources and Northern Development at 1-800-782-0076
- in Saskatchewan, to the Ministry of Environment Inquiry Centre at 1-800-567-4224
- in Alberta, to the Environment and Protected Areas ministry office at 310-0000
- in British Columbia, to the provincial Wild Bird Reporting Line at 1-866-431-2473
- in the Northwest Territories, to the Department of Environment and Climate Change using the regional wildlife emergency number
- in Nunavut, to your local Conservation Officer at the Department of Environment
- in the Yukon, to the Turn in Poachers and Polluters at 1-800-661-0525 or by using their online reporting tool
Alternatively, contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1-800-567-2033 or through their online reporting tool.
Feeding wild birds in your backyard
The use of bird feeders is unlikely to spread highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, and the risk of an outbreak in wild bird species that frequent feeders is considered low.
Be sure to follow these guidelines if you use backyard bird feeders:
- To minimize the risk of transmission of HPAI virus, do not feed waterfowl, gulls, or other water birds
- Do not handle or feed any wild bird by hand
- Remove bird feeders from areas that are open to poultry and other domestic animals
- If you care for poultry, prevent contact between wild birds and your animals by removing exterior/outdoor sources of food, water, and shelter that attract wild birds
- Be sure to clean your backyard bird feeders and baths regularly, at least every two weeks, using a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water. Ensure that they are well rinsed and dried before re-use
- Regular cleaning practices are essential for infection prevention and control, as various other pathogens are known to spread at feeders (e.g., trichomonas, salmonella, and avian pox)
Protecting domestic and captive birds
Domestic birds are at risk of contracting viruses like avian influenza, in particular if they have access to the outdoors and ponds or bodies of water used by wild birds. Owners are urged to take an active role in protecting their flocks by employing strict biosecurity measures on their property including minimizing contact between wild birds and their small flocks.
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Information for migratory bird permit holders
People who work with wild birds or other susceptible wildlife, including those in possession of a permit authorized under the Migratory Birds Regulations, 2022, are at increased risk of exposure to avian influenza virus and should take measures to limit interactions with wild birds and improve biosecurity during an HPAI outbreak.
Some examples of occupations or activities that may increase your risk of exposure include:
- wildlife rehabilitator
- wildlife officer
- wildlife research or bird banding
- migratory bird permit holders
- clean up and disposal of dead birds
To request biosecurity guidance documents for migratory bird permit holders, please contact your regional Canadian Wildlife Service permitting office.
Provincially permitted wildlife rehabilitation facilities should inquire with provincial permitting offices for guidance.
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Decontamination protocols following contact with wild birds or wild bird droppings
Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before and after completing these steps outside or in a well-ventilated room using protective eyewear and gloves:
- remove all organic material from footwear and other contaminated articles of clothing or equipment
- scrub clothing/equipment using a solution of 25 millilitres of household bleach (sodium hypochlorite, 5%-6%) and 2 litres of water
- let stand until the surface is dry
- scrub again with hot water and common household disinfectant following the label directions
Viruses can persist on clothing or footwear. To avoid spreading to wild and domestic birds, it is important to take appropriate personal hygiene measures and follow the handling guidelines available on the Public Health Agency of Canada website.
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Information for hunters and egg harvesters
Migratory birds and their eggs are federally protected under the Migratory Birds Regulations, 2022 (MBR 2022). When you are planning activities that might affect migratory birds, it is your responsibility to know which sections of the MBR 2022 apply. Provincial/territorial laws and regulations pertaining to migratory birds and harvest activities should also be reviewed where they apply.
Due to the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) put temporary restrictions on imports to the United States of meat from game birds in areas affected by the virus. These measures are subject to change. If you hunt migratory birds in Canada and plan to bring harvested meat into the U.S., consult the frequently updated webpage Imports: Animal and Animal Products – Temporary Restrictions from the United States Department of Agriculture, available in English only. If you require more information, contact APHIS at APIE@usda.gov or by phone at 301-851-3300 option 4.
While there is no documented evidence of humans getting avian influenza from handling or consuming game meat or eggs that have been fully cooked, it is recommended to follow these guidelines to reduce any risk of exposure to avian influenza virus and other pathogens:
- cook game meat thoroughly, to an internal temperature of approximately 74°C (165° F)
- follow safe food handling practices such as hand washing and keeping game products separate from other food products to avoid cross-contamination
- do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling raw game products
- thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces on tools, work areas, and clothing
Follow these guidelines when you harvest eggs:
- avoid harvesting eggs in areas where apparently sick or dead birds are found
- practice good hand hygiene while harvesting and handling eggs
- wear gloves (e.g. vinyl, latex, nitrile, rubber) when handling eggs if possible
- always wash your hands before and after handling eggs, using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available
- avoid touching your face or rubbing your eyes
- don’t eat, drink or smoke when handling eggs
- avoid inhaling dust, feathers and aerosols. Wearing a procedural/medical mask will further reduce your exposure to dust, feathers, airborne feces, and aerosols (e.g. when transiting through colonies; brushing debris off boots.)
- try to collect clean eggs only; avoid collecting cracked or dirty eggs
- eggs should be dry cleaned only
- rub dirt and debris off of eggs with a clean and dry paper towel, cloth, or brush
- washing or soaking eggs with water can affect the eggshell and allow germs to enter the egg
- always wash all egg collecting and cleaning equipment with soap and water after use
- disinfect using a solution of 25 millilitres of household bleach (sodium hypochlorite, 5%-6%) and 2 litres of water
- cook eggs to an internal temperature of 74°C (165°F)
- avoid consuming eggs raw or partially cooked (runny yolk)
- avoid using raw eggs in foods that will not be cooked, baked or heat-treated in other ways
- if travelling between separate bird communities during harvest activities (i.e., moving far distances between islands or on land), be sure to
- brush off organic material (i.e., dirt, bird droppings, plant matter) from clothing
- remove organic material (i.e., dirt, bird droppings, plant matter) from rubber boots by stomping feet and/or using a brush to clean the bottom of the boots. After dry cleaning boots using a brush, nearby salt water may be used to rinse them
- change gloves, wash hands or use hand sanitizer in between bird nesting areas
As part of Canada's Interagency Surveillance Program for Avian Influenza Viruses in Wild Birds, ECCC and partners conduct avian influenza virus surveillance in harvested migratory bird populations. This includes working collaboratively with the hunting community to sample harvested birds for avian influenza viruses, including highly pathogenic strains. During the 2022-23 migratory bird hunting season, highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) was detected in hunter harvested wild migratory birds in all provinces, except Newfoundland and Labrador, and was not found in the territories. HPAIV has been detected in all provinces and territories via other surveillance activities (e.g., sampling dead wild birds found on the landscape). The prevalence of HPAIV infections in harvested migratory birds varied among provinces and territories.
Learn more about:
Federal migratory game bird hunting regulations summaries for updates to migratory bird harvests restrictions by region
Information for pet owners
In general, avian influenza virus infections in domestic pets, including cats and dogs, are rare but can occur. AIVs can be transmitted to cats and dogs when they eat, scavenge, or interact closely with infected birds. This is the same mechanism for transmission in wild mammals.
As part of general best practices, it is recommended to keep your cat indoors and your dog on a leash to prevent contact with sick or dead wild birds as well as wild bird feces. Do not allow pets or hunting dogs to scavenge carcasses and do not feed your pets raw meat from wild birds.
Pet owners can consult their veterinarian for more information on avian influenza in dogs and other pets, including the use of hunting dogs in these circumstances.
If you encounter a sick or dead wild bird on your property, report it immediately to the appropriate authority.
Learn more about:
- Avian influenza (bird flu) from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
- How the CFIA responds to an outbreak of avian influenza in Canada
- Avian biosecurity: protect poultry, prevent disease
- Avian influenza A(H5N1): Symptoms and treatment from the Public Health Agency of Canada
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