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Avian influenza (Bird Flu)

BTO Guidelines for Garden feeding

Bird flu is a common disease of birds that occurs in many forms. There are at least 144 strains that have been formally identified and the majority of these are very mild, like most types of flu in humans.

A small number of bird flu viruses (including H5N1, the strain currently causing concern) can cause a high number of deaths in domestic poultry flocks. However, these are rare in wild birds. H5N1 was never recorded in wild birds before outbreaks in SE Asia, Russia and countries around the Black Sea. It is likely that it originated in domestic poultry, through the mutation of more benign strains, and was subsequently passed from poultry to wild birds.

There is no evidence that humans infected with H5N1 have acquired it from wild birds. Human infections have occurred in people who have been closely associated with poultry. The risk to human health from wild birds in the UK is remote and can be minimised by avoiding close contact with sick or dead birds.

What are the risks from garden birds?

The British Trust for Ornithology, RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have issued clear advice to inform the public, and to counter some of the concerns that have understandably developed as a result of the coverage of the spread of bird flu (H5N1). Knowing the facts will help to reassure you, so that you can continue to enjoy feeding birds and watching them in your garden.Feeding birds

It is extremely unlikely that bird flu could be transmitted to people by feeding birds in the garden.

Birds carry a variety of diseases, such as salmonella. The single most important action we can take, to protect both the birds that feed in our gardens and ourselves, is to follow the enclosed hygiene guidelines.

In all circumstances, after handling bird feeders, cleaning bird baths or feeding birds, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Bird feeders should be washed and cleaned regularly to prevent spread of diseases such as salmonella. This should be done outside in your garden with dilute disinfectant (normal household bleach diluted 1:20).

Nesting birds

The RSPB, the BTO and the WWT are aware of incidents in Europe where nests of White Storks and the endangered Lesser Kestrel have been destroyed.The fear of bird flu may drive people to take unnecessary and inappropriate action, such as destroying nests and driving birds away. Such action will not provide protection from bird flu. Humans can only catch bird flu if they have extremely close contact with an infected bird, or its droppings. The risk of a nesting bird in your garden being infected is very small indeed, and the risk of contracting the virus is also extremely small. However, as a precaution, you should avoid touching sick or dead birds and bird droppings. Almost all of the human cases of infection have been due to extremely close contact with sick or dead poultry.

In the case of nests already in use (this includes nests being built or repaired), it is an offence to disturb or destroy them.

As always, if you see a baby bird (fledgling) in your garden, leave it to its own devices. Its parents are almost certainly nearby and will look after it. What do I do if I find a dead bird?

Many thousands of birds die every week of natural causes and so it is not unusual to occasionally find dead birds. If, however, you find three or more dead wild, or garden birds together in the same place and you are suspicious of the cause of death, do not touch the birds but call the Defra Help Line on 08459 335577. This is particularly important for species like waterfowl.

Where possible, avoid directly touching any dead birds. If you move a dead bird (e.g. if a cat brings one into your house or you need to check if it is ringed), invert a plastic bag over your hand and pick the bird up in the plastic. If the bird is ringed, report the ring details to the BTO http://www.ring.ac then draw the bag over your hand and tie it up (like using a dog pooper-scooper) and dispose of it in your usual household waste, then wash your hands with soap and water.

Remember that many species of birds make use of the food that people provide, so keep feeding and keep enjoying your garden birds.

4th July 2014