The presence of a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed in Canada, with cases spreading rapidly across the country and confirmed detections in B.C. Positive cases have been confirmed in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior and North regions. This includes birds like great horned owls, bald eagles, great blue herons, ducks and geese, and even crows.
The BC SPCA is asking the public to temporarily remove backyard bird feeders and empty bird baths to prevent the spread of the disease.
During the fall migration season, birds gathering in large groups can be problematic for the spread of HPAI. Temporarily remove bird feeders to help discourage unnecessary large gatherings that may facilitate the spread of the disease.
Wild birds play a key role in the spread of HPAI. Although waterfowl (including ducks, geese and gulls) and raptors (eagles, hawks and owls) are highest risk, avian influenza viruses can infect all avian species. The virus is shed by infected birds through feces and respiratory secretions and is very resilient – the virus can survive in the environment for several months and continue to infect other birds!
Bird feeders facilitate the spread of the disease by encouraging unnatural congregations of birds and attracting other wildlife including predators and rodents. Fallen seed is also an especially bad source of disease – when birds feed from the ground, they are also exposed to droppings that accumulate below a feeder. The presence of bird feeders and baths can also increase the risk of transmitting the virus between nearby animals like backyard chickens or turkeys.
Avian influenza – or “bird flu” – is a virus that can affect many different species of birds. This includes farm animals like chickens and turkeys, but can also affect pets and wild birds. The H5N1 strain is considered highly pathogenic, causing severe illness and death in birds.
On rare occasions, this virus can cause disease in humans that have close contact with infected birds, or heavily contaminated areas. We need to do everything we can to stop this virus in its tracks!
Help curb this serious disease by removing your bird feeders and emptying bird baths as well as monitoring for any signs of sick birds in your area. Sick birds may appear lethargic, unusually “fluffed up”, have nasal discharge, coughing and/or sneezing, diarrhea, or have excessively watery eyes or swelling of the head, neck and eyes. Contact the BC SPCA at 1-855-622-7722 for advice about sick birds or for help finding your local wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Report sightings of sick or dead wild birds to the B.C. Wild Bird Mortality Investigation Protocol & Avian Influenza Surveillance Program at 1-866-431-BIRD (2473). If the report is assessed to require further investigation, guidance will be provided on a case by case basis. Please do not bring deceased birds to a wildlife rehabilitation centre or veterinary clinic as they will not be able to test for the disease.
- B.C. Wildlife Health Program
- Government of Canada – status of ongoing H5N1 response
- Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC)
- Dashboard: Highly pathogenic avian influenza – wild birds
- Map: Avian influenza zones
- Fact sheet: Avian influenza
- Precautions for bird banders, Aviculturists and wildlife rehabilitation centres
The BC SPCA recommends only providing bird feeders in winter between October and March. In the spring and summer months, there is lots of natural food for birds. Get the facts on backyard bird feeding.
During times of extreme heat, provide water sources with caution. Well-maintained bird baths and running water sources are considered relatively low-risk for HPAI. Water sources must be emptied, cleaned, and refilled regularly. If you see any signs of sick birds in your yard, empty the water sources and discontinue use immediately.
Hummingbird feeders are not without risk but pose the lowest risk because they are species-specific and have a more limited group of birds visiting them. However, this is a good reminder to regularly change the nectar in and clean hummingbird feeders to prevent deadly fungal outbreaks. Learn how and when to change the hummingbird nectar solution, and how to clean your hummingbird feeder to keep these beautiful birds healthy and safe. And remember, if you see sick birds at your feeder, take it down right away!