Advice for Bird Watchers

It is still considered safe to watch and feed wild birds and to monitor nest boxes.

It is safe to watch birds, feed birds, and monitor nest boxes.

Chi bird watchingAs always, to avoid contracting any illness from wild birds, you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap or hand sanitizer after handling bird feeders, bird nests, birdbaths, or water contaminated by bird droppings. Avoid touching bird droppings or dead birds. If you must move a dead bird, use disposable gloves or double plastic bags.

To date, the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus has not been found in birds or people in North America. Where the virus has been found, the only documented report of transmission from wild birds to humans so far has been in Azerbaijan. After defeathering swans, seven people became ill, four of whom later died. For more information about this case, read the June 26, 2006 article in The Guardian.

In most cases, humans have been infected through close contact with diseased poultry, infected bird products (feathers, manure, etc.), or contaminated surfaces, such as dirt, water, or cages. Among wild birds, waterfowl and shorebirds seem to be most affected by outbreaks of high pathogenicity H5N1 so far.

In the event that there is an outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus in your area, it would be important to avoid touching dead or sick birds. In the area of an outbreak, if you handle birds through mist netting or rehabilitation, or if you monitor bird nests in the area of an outbreak, you should follow safety precautions as outlined by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.

Additional information and advice for bird watchers may be found at the links below:

  • Where to report sick or dead wild birds, USDA

For a reassuring perspective on avian flu, read Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick's column, "The View from Sapsucker Woods," in the spring 2006 issue of BirdScope.

Please visit our Q&A section for answers to other questions about the avian flu virus and how it could be spread.