Illinois advises residents to stop using bird feeders and baths

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is recommending residents stop using bird feeders and baths through the end of May due to a strain of influenza that is affecting wild and domestic birds.

The strain is called EA H5N1, which is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Throughout the Midwest, infections with the strain have increased, especially in waterfowl.

Currently, there are no reported cases of HPAI for songbirds in Illinois. However, some people are not sure what the recommendation means for the enjoyment of certain species.

“This was not meant to be for hummingbird feeders or oriole feeders,” said Dr. Chris Jacques, IDNR Wildlife Diseases and Invasive Species Program Manager. “The idea is that many of the species that we know to be most affected and infected by HPAI are waterfowl and some of the raptor species.”

Seasonal migration can affect calorie intake. Changes in the weather can play a role as well, as birds flock to familiar places to feast.

“In times of extreme weather or rain, snow, heat or drought, they know where the constant feeders are, so they will go to those feeders,” said Kathi Butts of Wild Birds Unlimited in St. Charles, Missouri. His company is monitoring the Illinois recommendation.

“If you have bird feeders near poultry, domestic birds like chickens and ducks, you may want to remove them,” he said. “But if you’re just feeding in the backyard, there’s absolutely no reason to remove them.”

Dr. Jacques asks them to use caution but not to panic.

“Anyone that has hummingbird or oriole feeders can continue those activities, but consider having seed feeders suspend operations at this time,” he said.

Nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys have been culled in 26 states to limit the spread of bird flu during this year’s outbreak. Officials order entire flocks to be culled when the virus is found on farms.

Avian influenza has also been found in 637 wild birds, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Avian flu can spread among wild birds, specifically those that congregate, such as vultures or eagles at a kill site. To keep the birds, and yourself, safe, you may want to reconsider doing things that encourage the animals to congregate.

During the spring, wild birds will have ample food sources while bird feeders are removed, the IDNR said.

The agency recommends the following.

  • Clean and rinse birdbaths and feeders with a diluted bleach solution (nine parts water to one part bleach) and store or clean weekly if they cannot be kept away from birds.
  • Remove any birdseed at the base of bird feeders to discourage large gatherings of birds or other wildlife.
  • Avoid feeding wild birds near domestic flocks.

If five or more deceased wild birds are observed at one location, an IDNR district wildlife biologist should be contacted. So far, the strain has not been detected in any species of songbird.

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