Updated 4/19/2022

Following closely on the heels of 2021’s Pine Siskin and Goldfinch Salmonella outbreak and “Mysterious Bird Disease” is the 2022 Avian Flu scare. Recently, news reports have circulated calling the outbreak “nationwide,” and some people have called for a temporary halt to feeding birds at home to help stop the spread. We at Wild Birds Unlimited are more concerned about the health and safety of our birds than we are about selling bird seed, so we are here to give you the facts without the hype, just as we did with last year’s health concerns.

Let’s start with what avian flu is. Avian flu, like human flu strains, is a highly transmittable disease that is found naturally in the bird world, mostly amongst waterfowl, and is often carried with little or no symptoms. It can spread from one species to another, however, spread is typically limited to within the same species or species that congregate with one another. In some cases raptors or scavengers contract the disease and it can be more severe in these birds than in waterfowl. My suspicion is transmission to birds of prey and scavengers is most likely caused by eating infected waterfowl. Avian flu does affect ‘domestic’ fowl, such as chickens and possibly turkeys, ducks, geese and other farm-raised birds that are in close proximity to one another and may come into contact with infected “wild birds.”

For clarification, the term “wild birds” as used in news and various government agency reports is used to refer to ANY birds that are not domesticated or farm-raised. The term refers to the aforementioned waterfowl and raptors, as well as songbirds. As of April 19, I have heard of just one confirmed instance of what we would refer to as a feeder-bird - a blue jay in Nova Scotia - having contracted the disease. While jays are often found at feeders, they will also scavenge food, including carrion, which I suspect is how it contracted the disease. As of April 19, 2022, the CDC reports 637 cases of avian flu amongst wild birds here in the US, the vast majority of which are waterfowl with a small handful being raptors. NO feeder-birds have made it to their list at this time. By contrast, more than 27 million “domestic” birds (farm-raised poultry) have been affected in the US alone. There are currently NO reported cases of avian flu amongst humans in the US, even among commercial poultry handlers.

As of this writing, the problem amongst wild birds is no where near epidemic as news stories and blogs may lead you to believe. We saw this same kind of sensationalism last year with the so-called “mysterious bird disease” that caused a panic across the country when in fact the cases of the illness were limited to specific geographic regions. The same applies here with the avian flu (updates will be forthcoming if trends change). To date, there are 31 states that have had wild birds affected. most east of the Mississippi and north of us here in Arkansas. NW Tennessee and the northern half of Missouri have seen some cases, but there have NO cases reported in Arkansas, nor in the states to the south or directly west of us.

We want to protect our birds, that’s a given. The first step is to clean feeders and birdbaths regularly with soap and hot water. Second, do not feed your birds more than they can consume in a few days to help prevent decaying food in the feeders. It is also helpful to regularly clean up any mess that may be under your feeders.

If you should see a sick or dead bird, remember that birds, like humans get sick and die naturally, so don’t panic. If you find more than one dead bird in close proximity and/or in a short space of time, then take down your feeders and discard any remaining seed in the trash, wash them and use bleach to disinfect them, being sure to rinse extremely well, and then put your feeders away for a period of two weeks to cause the feeder-birds to ‘socially distance’ while whatever is affecting them plays out. Clean and disinfect your birdbaths also, and leave them empty for the same two week period. You should dispose any dead birds in the trash, OR, you can collect them in a plastic bag and contact the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in a timely manner to se if they want to test them for pathogens. ALWAYS use good hygiene techniques whenever handling feeders and especially when handling dead birds! Wear gloves that can be disposed of or sanitized, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling.

Please check our website often for updates to this information at www.littlerock.wbu.com.

John Sommer
Wild Birds Unlimited - Little Rock

* The opinions offered herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions the sources cited or those of Wild Birds Unlimited, Inc. or any of its franchises. The opinions expressed are the result of the author’s own research using the websites listed below (and other similar resources) sourced on April 19th. 2022.