Avian influenza in wild birds

Highly pathogenic avian influenza

Avian influenza virus (AIV) is a contagious viral infection that can affect domestic and wild birds throughout the world. Many strains occur naturally in wild birds and circulate in migratory populations. AIV is designated highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) when it has characteristics that cause mass disease and mortality in infected poultry.

There have been no human cases of avian influenza resulting from exposure to wild birds in North America.

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Signs of a sick bird

Signs of avian flu include:

  • lack of energy or movement
  • nervousness, tremors or lack of coordination
  • swelling around the head, neck and eyes
  • coughing, gasping for air or sneezing
  • diarrhea or
  • 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.

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 des Forêts, 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 (866) 673-4781.
  • in Manitoba, to the Manitoba Natural Resources and Northern Development 24 hours at 1-800-782-0076.
  • in Saskatchewan, to the Ministry of Environment Inquiry Centre at 1-800-567-4224.
  • in Alberta, to the Alberta Environment and Parks 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 Natural Resources 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, to 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. However, feeders should be removed from areas that are open to poultry and other domestic animals. Additionally, if you care for poultry, biosecurity measures that prevent and/or eliminate contact between wild birds and poultry are critical and include the removal of exterior/outdoor sources of food, water, and shelter that attract wild birds.

Backyard bird feeders and baths should be cleaned 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 disease prevention and control, as there are various other pathogens that are known to spread at feeders (e.g., trichomonosis, salmonellosis, and avian pox). If sick birds are observed near bird feeders, the feeders should be removed and the sick birds reported to the appropriate authority.

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.

Learn more about:

How to prevent and detect disease in backyard flocks and pet birds

Suggested solutions for farmers – deterring migratory birds

How to manage conflicts with geese and colonial waterbirds

Information for migratory bird permit holders

Wildlife rehabilitation centres, aviculturists, zoos, and other migratory bird permit holders should take measures to limit interactions with wild birds and improve biosecurity during an HPAI outbreak.

To request biosecurity guidance documents for wildlife rehabilitation centres, aviculturists, zoos and other migratory bird permit holders, please contact your regional permitting office.

Provincially permitted wildlife rehabilitation facilities should inquire with provincial permitting offices for guidance.

The Public Health Agency of Canada website offers guidance on human health considerations: Precautions for bird banders, aviculturists and wildlife rehabilitation centres.

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 again, 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 with hot water and common household disinfectant following the label directions.

Learn more about:

How to prevent and detect disease in small flocks and pet birds

Information for hunters and egg harvesters

Migratory birds and their eggs are federally protected under the Migratory Birds Regulations (MBR). When you are planning activities that might affect migratory birds, it is your responsibility to know which sections of the MBR 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 (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 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
  • 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.

Learn more about:

Hunter safety

Food safety

Healthy eating and food safety for Indigenous peoples

Be aware and declare

Federal migratory game bird hunting regulations for updates to migratory bird harvests restrictions

Information for pet owners

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. Pet owners should not feed pets (e.g., dogs or cats) any raw meat from game birds or poultry. Pet owners can also consult with their veterinarian for more information on avian influenza in dogs and other pets.

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