Avian influenza and wild birds
Avian influenza viruses naturally occur in wild birds, especially waterfowl and shorebirds, and infections typically cause few, if any, symptoms. The virus is spread among birds through nasal and oral discharges and fecal droppings, and can persist in the environment for long periods of time. Avian influenza viruses have many different strains, and are categorized as low pathogenic (LPAI) and high pathogenic (HPAI) based on their infectivity to domestic poultry. High pathogenic avian influenza viruses are very contagious among birds and can cause rapid and high mortality in domestic poultry, such as chickens and domestic ducks. High pathogenic avian influenza can occasionally also cause mortality in wild birds, including waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and scavengers.
Confirmed cases in Utah
The last outbreak in the United States occurred in 2014–15, when highly pathogenic H5 strains of avian influenza (H5N2 and H5N8) were detected in wild birds of the Pacific, Central and Mississippi Flyways. Of these, H5N2 caused outbreaks of avian influenza in domestic poultry and turkeys in multiple U.S. states. Neither strain resulted in human infections. During that outbreak, high pathogenic avian influenza was detected in two healthy ducks in Utah, which were tested in association with enhanced surveillance activities in December 2014 and August 2015.
In January 2022, a new high pathogenic avian influenza outbreak was confirmed. The first wild and domestic birds that tested positive were on the East Coast, and the virus has since spread west into Utah. In April 2022, HPAI was confirmed in domestic birds in Utah after a backyard flock of poultry in Utah County tested positive. The same month, it was confirmed in wild birds in Utah after a great horned owl in Cache County tested positive. As of Jan. 10, 2023, a total of 102 birds and three red foxes have tested positive for avian influenza in 13 counties. The birds infected with the virus include raptors and waterbirds, specifically Canada geese, great horned owls, hawks, pelicans, turkey vultures, grebes, gulls, ravens and ducks.
Although the current strain of the avian flu presents a low risk to people, it has been confirmed in at least one person in Colorado during this most recent outbreak. Visit the CDC website for more information on keeping yourself safe.
Surveillance for avian influenza in Utah birds by the DWR
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is continuing to monitor for unusual mortality events in wild birds, especially in waterfowl and other water birds; gallinaceous birds such as quail and turkeys; scavenger birds such as crows and ravens; and birds of prey such as eagles, owls and other raptors.
We request that any groups (five or more birds) of dead waterfowl, shorebirds, wild turkeys or quail (not found near power lines or roads), as well as dead raptors and scavengers found near waterfowl habitats, be reported to a local DWR office or by calling 801-538-4700. Please do not pick up the carcass.
Recommendations for the general public and hunters
- The general public should observe wildlife, including wild birds, from a distance. This protects you from possible exposure to pathogens and minimizes disturbance to the animal.
- Do not harvest, handle or eat any animal that appears sick. Please report any large group of dead waterfowl (five or more birds) to local wildlife authorities immediately.
- Field dress game animals in a well-ventilated area or outdoors.
- Avoid direct contact with the intestines.
- Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning birds. Wash your hands with soap and water, and thoroughly clean all knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with the birds. Disinfect using a 10% chlorine bleach solution.
- Keep your game birds cool, clean and dry.
- Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game or handling animals.
- All game meat should be thoroughly cooked before eating (well-done or 165° F).
- Dogs are susceptible to HPAI, but don't often show clinical signs. Though the risk of infection is low, visit the DWR website to identify the locations with active cases of avian flu in wild birds and avoid those areas when using retrievers. Consult your local veterinarian if your dog exhibits any respiratory symptoms.
- If you have domestic poultry, keep them separated from the wild bird carcasses you have harvested, and do not handle poultry after handling wild birds.
- Hunters should be aware that the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is implementing restrictions on hunter harvested wild bird meat and carcasses from Canada.
Recommendations for people who may handle wild birds
Recommendations for falconers
Birds of prey are susceptible to highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses which are typically transmitted from eating infected birds. We advise falconers to avoid hunting wild birds or feeding wild species to birds of prey during this current highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak. Biosecurity practices with enhanced cleaning should be implemented, as well as limiting contact with other wild birds during this time. If any bird is showing clinical symptoms, consult a veterinarian immediately and quarantine from any other bird in the facility.
Recommendations for game bird facilities
Game birds, including quail, pheasants, turkeys and grouse are susceptible to highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses. Practicing biosecurity and appropriate sanitation is the main way to protect your flock. We advise that you limit bird movement in and out of your facility, and prevent contact with wild birds. For more information, visit this website. We also recommend following the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations on protecting your flock.
Recommendations for wildlife rehabilitators
Wildlife rehabilitators are at the highest risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza entering your facility, due to taking in sick birds. Precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of HPAI from entering your facility and affecting any other birds. For in-depth guidelines and recommendations for your facility, contact your local DWR office.
Frequently asked questions
Question: Is there any risk of becoming infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus by feeding backyard birds or cleaning a bird feeder?
Answer: There is currently no evidence that suggests you could become infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus by feeding backyard birds. Generally, songbirds, or perching birds, (Passeriformes) are the primary type of birds at feeders, and they are usually not affected by HPAI. Most wild birds traditionally associated with avian influenza viruses are waterfowl, shorebirds and scavengers. It is unlikely that bird feeders will contribute to an outbreak among songbirds, but if someone also has backyard poultry, then we recommend removing bird feeders during the outbreak.
Songbirds are susceptible to other avian diseases. Therefore, we recommend that people without backyard poultry who feed birds routinely, clean their feeders and bird baths, and anyone who comes in direct contact with bird droppings should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water. Visit these links for more information:
- Cleaning a bird feeder
- Songbird diseases encountered at bird feeders
- Avian Influenza Outbreak: Should You Take Down Your Bird Feeders?
Question: Can humans catch avian influenza from wild birds?
Answer: Although the current strain of the avian flu presents a low risk to people, it has been confirmed in at least one person in Colorado during this most recent outbreak.
Question: Does the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources have a surveillance program for HPAI viruses?
Answer: We collaborate with federal agencies on a nationwide surveillance and monitoring program for HPAI virus in wild migratory birds. The DWR periodically tests hunter-harvested waterfowl to check for the presence of the HPAI virus. We also request that the public report any large group of dead waterfowl to local wildlife authorities immediately.
Question: Should I feed wild ducks, geese, and other waterfowl?
Answer: No. There are many reasons that you should not feed ducks and geese. Feeding ducks and geese increases the chance of spreading many diseases that are common among waterfowl, including avian influenza. It makes them tame and may cause them to become a nuisance as they lose their natural behaviors. Unnatural food items such as bread, popcorn, and even seeds have little nutritional value and can make birds sick. It is best to enjoy your local wildlife from a distance and under natural conditions!
Question: What can I do to protect my pets from avian influenza?
Answer: If you are worried about your pets, do not let them roam outside where they could be exposed to, or eat the remains of, sick or dead animals including wildlife. Many diseases can cause wild birds or other animals to get sick and die, and some of these diseases could be spread to pets that run free. There is no vaccine to protect pets against avian influenza.
- USGS National Wildlife Health Center Avian Influenza Distribution Map
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Avian Influenza Information
- Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Confirmation of 2022 Avian Flu Case in Utah
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Utah State University Extension Avian Influenza information
- Environmental Protection Agency Avian Influenza information