Wildlife officials suggest skipping the bird feeder this year

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Following detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza in 31 states, some wildlife officials are making suggestions to help prevent the spread of the virus.

According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), avian flu is a highly contagious virus that can be spread in a number of ways from flock to flock, including by wild birds, through from contact with infected birds, by equipment, and on the clothing and shoes of keepers.

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.

Bird 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 gather.

“Any of these birds that congregate are susceptible, particularly waterfowl,” he said. Brian Roell, a biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “I know some people who live on the lakes and like to dig up some corn and watch those birds, but this would be the year for bird safety and your own safety from attracting those waterfowl to your yard. ”

Roell said avian influenza isn’t usually seen in songbirds, but it can be spread from backyard bird feeders. He suggested skipping the feeders this year. With the arrival of warmer weather, birds are able to find their own food sources.

Other wildlife officials agree. “During these unprecedented times, we recommend doing everything we can to try to help our wild bird populations. Because the science is unclear on the role of songbirds in this current H5N1 outbreak, one consideration is not to encourage birds to congregate at places like bird feeders or birdbaths,” said Dr. Victoria Hall, Executive Director and veterinary epidemiologist at The Raptor Center.

Hall said his recommendation is temporary while we wait for the spread of the virus to slow. “It is in our power to take short-term action so as not to accidentally help spread the virus. This outbreak won’t last forever and I, for one, can’t wait to get my bird feeders safely back up! she wrote on Facebook.

For those who have backyard flocks, including birds like chickens or turkeys, Roell suggested monitoring how you feed your birds.

“You would want to make sure your chickens are not associated with any wild birds. So if wild birds can feed from the same feeder or bucket as your domestic chickens, that would be something you would want to stop right now for the safety of your own birds,” Roell said.

More than 600 wild birds have been detected with avian influenza in 31 states, according to the most recent data from the CDC. Two cases have also been found in US zoos.

The problem is much more widespread with poultry: more than 27 million birds have been affected so far. Some commercial flocks of up to 5 million chickens have been culled in a bid to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus.

While the virus poses a substantial threat to birds, the CDC emphasizes that it currently poses minimal risk to the public. People who work with affected birds are at increased risk, as they are exposed to the animals’ feces and saliva. Even when a human contracts the virus through close contact with an infected bird, person-to-person spread is “very rare,” the CDC says.

You also shouldn’t fear consuming poultry or eggs as a result of bird flu, says the CDC. Both need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as usual, to kill any bacteria or viruses, including this flu.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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