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Help Our Wee Friends. Temporarily Remove Birdseed Feeders

Are we required to wear a mask or not? Should we remove our seed/grain bird feeders or continue filling them? Current guidance on birdfeeders is almost as confusing as mask wearing. However, I have some helpful information for you.


Although no official ruling has been made, wildlife agencies recommend that we do, in fact, take our feeders down until May 31, 2022, or until infections subside. Risk is relatively low for songbirds to contract or spread the avian influenza (EA H5N1 strain of avian influenza HPAI), but if that should happen, the spread could be devastating, especially for domestic poultry. A mass outbreak could cost billions of dollars and millions of lives in poultry.


The United States declares that it has the strongest avian influenza surveillance program in the world. This program, APHIS, collects and tests large numbers of samples from wild birds in North America and says that the outbreak started on the East Coast and swiftly spread through the Midwest and beyond. The virus has been detected in several states including, Pennsylvania, Utah, Texas, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota.


HPAI is a highly pathogenic avian influenza. However, the effect of the virus varies with the type of bird. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), HPAI was detected in the state of Illinois in wild Canadian geese on March 10, 2022. Since then, wild bird mortality from this virus has been confirmed in Champaign, Fulton, Sangamon, and Will counties with a more recent mortality event of more than 200 birds in Cook County.


Impacted birds include waterfowl and waterbird species and raptors, including eagles and owls, as well as domestic poultry. Recently, the U.S.D.A. reported 41 dead bald eagles infected with the virus across the country.


The organization also that any occurrences of deceased or sick bald eagles be reported. Caution should be taken when disposing of any deceased wild birds. The recommendation is that gloves and a mask be worn, the carcass sealed in double-plastic bags, and then hands and clothing should be washed with soap and water.


Other recommendations include the omission of feeding wild birds in close proximity to domestic flocks. It’s important that pet birds and backyard poultry remain housed in a building until the risk decreases. Also, feeding geese, ducks, gulls and other shorebird species should be avoided as not only does the gathering of birds while feeding increase the risk of them contracting the virus, so does our human presence since we can carry pathogens on our hands, clothing, and shoes, as well.


According to IDNR, it is unlikely that hummingbird and oriole feeders will contribute to the spread of HPAI because these birds are more species specific. Therefore, hummingbird feeders may remain up.


When we may again feed our songbirds, IDNR recommends that bird feeders and baths be completely emptied and cleaned weekly with a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach and then thoroughly rinsed.


For more information, see articles on the CDC website, U.S. Geological Survey, Wildlife Illinois, and the IDNR.


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