Updated May 18, 2022
Avian influenza (AI), a serious and harmful disease found primarily in birds. Bird watchers, rehabilitators, bird banders, and hunters need to be careful when in contact with wild birds. This webpage outlines steps to report possible cases of AI to wildlife managers. Read a fact sheet on AI.
Risks of Avian Influenza
Different strains of avian influenza (AI) occur naturally in wild birds in North America. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) refers to strains that are especially fatal to domestic poultry. It is unknown how these viruses will impact wild bird populations.
HPAI’s risk to the general public is low according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To date, the CDC reports one domestic case of HPAI in a human: mild symptoms in a Colorado individual who was assisting with depopulation of a infected domestic flock. There continues to be no evidence of human infection in Vermont.
Reporting Possible Cases of Wildlife Diseases
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has now been detected in 4 bald eagles, 1 red tailed hawk, 3 Canada geese, 1 wood duck, and 2 turkey vultures in Vermont. Infected birds have been found in all regions of Vermont. One backyard flock of chickens in Caledonia County has been depopulated as a result of HPAI infection. No wild birds were tested at that location, so the origin of the virus was not confirmed.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife officials are continuing to monitor the presence of HPAI in Vermont’s wild birds. The public can help by using the guidelines below to distinguish between natural expected bird mortality versus something that may be more serious.
Alert the department (fwinformation@vermont. gov or 802 828 1000) if you see certain conditions, specifically:
- Any hawks or owls found sick or dead
- Any loons or eagles found sick or dead
- Crows, jays, or ravens: 5 or more found sick or dead in the same location
- Songbirds: 5 or more found sick or dead birds in the same visual area
- Terns: more than 2 found sick or dead
- Waterfowl: any ducks, geese or swans found sick or dead in the same area within 1-2 days
- Wild turkeys: 3 or more found sick or dead
These guidelines will certainly change as time goes on. Please check this webpage for up-to-date guidance before calling. To conserve laboratory resources only new species will be tested in locations where HPAI has not been detected.
Considerations For Bird Feeding
At this time, we request that all bird feeders be taken down to avoid causing wild birds to congregate and potentially spread HPAI more widely.
More generally, there are some diseases that feeding birds may encounter in your backyard. Learn more about these commonly occurring diseases, (salmonellosis, mycoplasma, trichomoniasis, and aspergillosis) by visiting Wild Futures Program Disease Fact Sheets. To help prevent these diseases under regular circumstances, we recommend following these guidelines for keeping bird feeders clean and disease free.
Considerations for Rehabilitators and Bird Banders
Wildlife rehabilitators and bird banders who handle wild birds are on the frontline of avian influenza detection. Fish & Wildlife officials appreciate the cooperation of anyone who encounters wild birds.
Biosecurity is Key
After consulting with wildlife veterinarians, the department recommends rehabilitation facilities not accept birds at this time because of the potential effect of AI on an entire facility. Accepting new birds has the potential to put all captive birds at risk.
The department is making this recommendation to protect the long-term health of your programs. Biosecurity is the key to keeping AI out of your facilities.
AI is found in multiple species, not just waterfowl. If new birds are accepted into rehabilitation without an isolation facility, it could put all your birds at risk of the disease. If the disease is found on a farm or facility, the treatment is to depopulate the entire building of birds. The buildings will then receive various treatments to eliminate the virus.
An isolation facility can prevent transmission of any pathogen to other susceptible species. Admission to such a facility may include testing at entry and exit.
It is recommended new poultry being brought to farms be quarantined in an isolation facility for 30 days. The department suggests similarly for wild birds being brought into isolation prior to rehabilitation. Note that any new bird(s) accepted into the isolation facility could expose other birds previously in isolation, resetting the quarantine.
Best Practices for Handling Birds
Bird rehabilitators, banders, and others who handle wild birds should follow necessary precautions to prevent the spread of AI and other diseases among birds. We recommend that those handling wild birds:
- Implement hygiene procedures and practices including cleaning and disinfecting equipment, holding devices (e.g., bird bags), and clothes worn during banding
- Follow personal hygiene practices including hand cleaning or, when possible, wearing gloves
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling wild birds and work in a well-ventilated environment
- Be particularly diligent if you plan to have contact with domestic poultry; should you become ill, inform your doctor of your contact with wild birds
Following these guidelines will help the department make the best use of their resources and safeguard wildlife health.
For More Information
- USDA APHIS | Avian Influenza
- USDA APHIS | 2022 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
- USDA APHIS | Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Avian Influenza