Avian Influenza Updates

A strain of avian influenza (also known as bird flu, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or H5N1) has been affecting poultry, raptors, and waterfowl across the country in 2022. It does not appear to significantly impact or spread through songbirds, and we do not recommend taking down feeders.

Recent news reports have noted that HPAI has now arrived in California. As of 8/10/22, 22 birds have tested positive in the state, including 12 Canada geese and 10 other waterbirds. This includes multiple geese in Sonoma County, but as yet no Marin reports. (See the USDA database for the most up-to-date information.)

San Rafael’s WildCare, cited in the Marin IJ article of 8/9/22, has been recommending that the public take down bird feeders. This reflects their standing position that people should never feed any wildlife, including backyard songbirds, regardless of any avian influenza outbreak. WildCare cites the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, which recommended taking down feeders earlier in spring when the disease was highly prevalent in their area. Even the Raptor Center, however, has since revised their advice and has not recommended taking down feeders since May.

California Fish and Wildlife also put out a statement that feeding wild birds is “discouraged, especially in the vicinity of backyard poultry.” This is far from a consensus view, with the federal guidelines from both the United States and Canada concluding that removing bird feeders is not an effective intervention, but even this statement emphasizes that this precaution is most impactful in regards to backyard poultry. While stating various actions that poultry keepers “should” take, the birdfeeding advice is limited to a “discouragement.”

All sources agree on the following:

  • There have been zero cases in Marin.
  • There have been zero songbird cases in California.
  • Some sources will emphasize the threat to corvids or raptors: there have been zero corvid or raptor cases in California. Our most likely feeder-visiting corvids are jays: there have been zero jay cases in the country (under 30 cases have been reported among larger corvids that fed on infected poultry or waterfowl as of 8/9/22). 
  • The disease does not pose a significant risk to humans. One human employed in culling poultry suspected of infection tested positive; it caused temporary fatigue.

And most sources agree that songbirds and feeders are not significant factors in spreading the disease:

  • “There is currently very low risk of an outbreak among wild songbirds, and no official recommendation to take down feeders unless you also keep domestic poultry.” Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • "Passerines do not seem susceptible to HPAI and are not thought to play a significant role in spreading this virus. We are not recommending removal of bird feeders at this point." Cornell Wildlife Health Lab
  • Removing backyard feeders is not something USDA specifically recommends to prevent avian influenza unless you also take care of poultry.” United States Department of Agriculture
  • “There is no evidence that birdfeeders, or the birds that frequent them, contribute to the spread of HPAI.” Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases, University of Pennsylvania
  • “…although passerines and terrestrial wild birds may have a limited role in the epidemiology of [avian influenza viruses] when associated with infected domestic poultry, there is no evidence supporting their involvement as natural reservoirs for IAV.” Journal of Wildlife Diseases

 

Jack's New Book Out Now!

Jack Gedney, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Novato and Marin IJ columnist, is the author of The Private Lives of Public Birds: Learning to Listen to the Birds Where We Live. This collection of essays tells the stories of fifteen familiar and iconic birds of California. Each chapter illuminates the life of a single species, from backyard birds like California towhees, scrub-jays, and goldfinches to the less approachable but still near-at-hand like great horned owls and red-tailed hawks. Combining natural history and contemporary research with a wealth of historical, cultural, aesthetic, and first-hand perspectives on birds and how we interact with them, Private Lives provides a unique synthesis that will enrich the slightest and most everyday encounter with the avian world.

Private Lives

To read more about The Private Lives of Public Birds, see our blog.

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Our current business hours are Monday–Saturday from 10–5 and Sunday 11-5. 

For bird food and feeder orders, you are welcome to visit our online store to place orders for curbside pickup or home delivery. You can also call us at (415) 893-0500 to order or with any questions.

 


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