Backyard Bird Feeders: Will They Attract Avian Flu to Your Yard?

I love this time of year when it gets warm and the songbirds come back to my landscaped backyard. I have lots of birdhouses, bird feeders, and a couple of bird baths, which all attract all types of birds, along with hummingbird feeders that attract hummingbirds. I love these birds but before I investigated the possibilities, was worried about the bird flu.

The United States is preparing for the eventual spread of the avian flu to this country and has an aggressive interagency detection program led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The process is one in which large numbers (over 10,000) of living and expired birds, especially those near the coast, are tested for the virus. In addition, the USDA has a “Biosecurity for the Birds” program, which provides important information about reducing the probability of birds becoming infected with the avian flu. This program develops practical, common sense management practices to keep the avian flu and other poultry diseases out of our commercial and backyard flocks.

The good news is that up to this point, the avian flu has not been detected in the United States, although some predict that it is only a matter of time before it affects this country. The avian flu is carried primarily by waterfowl and shore birds but is also found in domestic poultry such as chickens. Testing and anecdotal evidence shows with confidence that your desirable wild birds such as robins, cardinals, blue birds, woodpeckers, purple martins, and hummingbirds are unaffected.

The National Wildlife Center (under the Depart. of the Interior), has developed best practices to follow in order to reduce the risk of infection from any virus when handling wild birds. This recommendation is not because of the bird flu but a general recommendation for reducing the threat of other bird viruses or diseases such as West Nile.

The Center recommends that people handling wild birds:
1) Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or birds found dead,
2) Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling (and cleaning) game, wash hands with soap and water (or with alcohol-based hand products if the hands are not visibly soiled), and thoroughly clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with game,
3) Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling or cleaning birds.

The recommendation is that you should definitely keep attracting wild songbirds to your home through the use of nesting boxes or houses, bird feed and seed stations, and birdbaths. At the time of writing this article, no bird flu has been found in the United States or Canada, especially not in songbird populations. Always be prudent and pay attention to the local news agencies for news about the spread of the bird flu AND other related illnesses such as West Nile.