Avian Flu: Should You Avoid Feeding Birds This Winter?

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Avian flu: should we avoid feeding birds this winter?

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Outbreaks of avian flu, responsible for the death of many birds last spring, have worried many people who like to leave food for them on their balconies or in feeders installed in their court.

With winter approaching, a season when nature lovers enjoy feeding birds, experts more or less agree on what attitude to adopt.

Whether or not to install feeders is a choice that each person will have to make, depending on the context, says Diane LeBlanc, president of the Nova Scotia Bird Society.

Bird flu is usually transmitted in aquatic species, such as ducks or geese, she says. So, unless there are ducks living nearby and frequenting feeders on private property, the risk of contamination in people's yards is pretty low.

Ducks Colder temperatures reduce the circulation of the pathogen, she adds, which is a factor to consider if you want to feed the birds in winter, when food is harder to find.

In general, we ask people not to have feeders in late spring or summer, because these pathogens circulate more easily when the weather is warm, when the birds have plenty of food in their environment, Diane continues. LeBlanc.

A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) female on a suet block

The problem with feeders, says biologist Bob Bancroft, president of Nature Nova Scotia, is that they encourage birds to congregate. This contact between several individuals of the same species, or between several species, can promote the circulation of diseases such as salmonellosis, trichomoniasis and avian flu.

Think of your neighbours, says Bob Bancroft. It advises against feeding the birds if there are farms or poultry farms nearby.

Only one of those little sparrows or goldfinches can make it to the farm next, and in no time all the poultry is dead, he says.

The use Bird feeders remain safe, but they should be removed from areas open to poultry and other domestic animals, writes Environment and Climate Change Canada on its website.

The federal department recommends also regularly clean bird feeders and baths with a solution of 25 milliliters of bleach added to 2 liters of water.

It is recommended never to hand feed wild birds to avoid disease transmission. Transmission of avian flu to humans is possible, but rare.

In February, 12,000 farmed turkeys were euthanized in Nova Scotia due to avian flu.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) , one million birds on dozens of farms have died of avian flu this year in Alberta, the province most affected by outbreaks.

In Nova Scotia, four farms experienced outbreaks. In February, the discovery of a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza in a commercial farm led to the euthanasia of 12,000 turkeys.

The presence of avian influenza was also confirmed in about 100 wild birds in the province. At this time, there are no ongoing outbreaks.

Nova Scotia changed its wildlife law last spring to discourage the public from feeding wildlife. This decision was mainly aimed at attracting less deer to urban areas. This law does not apply to bird feeders that people have on their property.

With information from CBC

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