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Backyard rooster and hen

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Alabama has reported only one case of avian influenza in 2022. The confirmed case occurred two months ago in Limestone County. However, the virus is rampant in more northern parts of the continent. Alabama Cooperative Extension System poultry and wildlife specialists recommend paying close attention to biosecurity protocols for commercial and backyard poultry flocks and monitoring statewide guidance.

Backyard Bird Feeders

Because of recent media reports, many homeowners are asking if they should temporarily take down their backyard bird feeders.

“As of April 21, 2022, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has issued no official guidance to take down backyard bird feeders,” said Wesley Anderson, an Alabama Extension specialist and assistant professor of forestry, wildlife and natural resources at Auburn University. “Certainly, it is fine to take down bird feeders out of precaution if so inclined, but that measure is not currently being called for in Alabama. With that the case, there are still steps everyone can take to reduce the probability for transmission of avian influenza and other avian diseases.”

Bird feeders – In most situations, bird feeders can remain up. In instances where waterfowl congregate around bird feeders, it is best to remove them until outbreaks in other parts of the country have subsided.

Sanitation – Keep bird feeders and the surrounding area clean. Take the following three steps to reduce disease transmission:

  1. Clean feeders frequently. Clean feeders at least once weekly. The best practice is to soak the entire feeder in 10 percent bleach solution (one part bleach mixed with nine parts water) for at least 10 minutes. Prior to doing so, scrub off any stuck-on seeds or dirt. Then, allow the bird feeder to air dry completely before filling and putting it back out.
  2. Pick up below the feeders. Remove droppings and fallen feed underneath the bird feeder by shoveling or raking. Wet and moldy feed, in general, is a health risk to birds. Dispose of this waste in the garbage.
  3. Consider additional feeders. Providing multiple locations for birds to feed can reduce close contact with each other and reduce disease spread.

Backyard poultry – If raising backyard poultry, experts recommend removing wild bird feeders for the time being. In general, good biosecurity dictates that bird feeders should not be near poultry. This is not just because of avian influenza, but other disease concerns, as well. Wild birds can spread diseases such as mycoplasma, infectious bronchitis, Salmonella and other diseases to poultry and vice versa.

Sick birds – Do not touch any sick or dead birds with bare hands. Although avian influenza only infects people on rare occasions, it is still a possibility. Birds also carry other diseases that they can transmit to people. Instead, use disposable gloves or a shovel to move them. Those that observe sick or dead birds with no obvious cause should consider reporting them to ADCNR by calling 334-242-3469.

Different Strains of Avian Influenza

Ken Macklin, an Alabama Extension specialist and poultry science professor at Auburn University, said avian influenza, sometimes called bird flu, is caused by a group of viruses known as avian influenza A.

“There are several of these viruses that normally circulate in waterfowl (ducks and geese) and shorebird (gulls and terns) populations that are not of concern to those birds or to other populations of birds,” Macklin said.

However, some strains of the virus may cause the waterfowl and shorebirds to become ill.

“There are two strains of concern. These are the ones that contain a surface protein called H5 or H7,” Macklin said. “Influenza viruses that have either of these two H types can be further classified as low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) or highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses. This designation does not apply to severity of illness in people or most birds, but, rather, how severe the disease is in poultry (chickens and ducks).”

A concern with these viruses is that they can convert from low to highly pathogenic avian influenza, and vice versa. As a result, Macklin said whenever the disease is detected in poultry, measures are put into place to protect other poultry.

“The measures include euthanasia of the entire flock and the creation of a surveillance zone around the infected location,” he said. “Birds in the surveillance zone are monitored to make sure they do not catch the disease. This is performed to eliminate the spread to uninfected birds. Other bird species may be impacted. However, the chance is low, unless they come into contact with infected birds.”

These can include raptors (eagles, hawks, owls, vultures and others), which become infected after ingesting a dead or sick bird. Macklin said the impacts on songbirds are not well understood. This is mainly because these birds typically do not reside in the same habitats as waterfowl or shorebirds.

Current Situation

The current outbreak is from a HPAI (H5N1) virus that professionals previously observed circulating in waterfowl populations in Eurasia for several years. From January 2022 through April 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have recorded over 31 million birds in the U.S. infected with this virus, the majority of which are poultry. To date, professionals have detected avian influenza in 763 wild birds. The majority of those birds are waterfowl or raptors. Many confirmed cases for both domestic and wild birds have been from the Upper Midwest.

If you observe sick or dead birds with no obvious cause, consider reporting them to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources by calling 334-242-3469.

Alabama Extension Resources

Alabama Extension professionals have put together several resources for backyard poultry growers, as well as commercial growers. Read more in the following Extension publications:

More Information

The CDC and USDA regularly update the number of cases of avian influenza. The links below will provide regularly updated information on the current situation.

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