Waterfowl and raptors are the most likely bird species to contract the H5N1 avian influenza, but all other birds are at risk as the virus continues to spread across Canada. /ANDREA ARNOLD

By Andrea Arnold

The BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has issued a notice requesting that bird lovers temporarily remove bird feeders and empty bird baths to help slow the spread of an avian flu.

The notice explains that waterfowl and raptors are at the highest risk of contracting this strain but that H5N1 is causing deaths in many different species, including chickens and turkeys as well as pet and wild birds.

Infected birds spread the virus through their feces and respiratory secretions. It is a resilient strain that can survive outside a bird and continue to infect others for several months.

“Bird feeders can be sites for disease spread because they encourage unnatural congregations of birds and attract other wildlife,” says Dr. Andrea Wallace, manager of wild animal welfare for the BC SPCA. “Fallen seed is also an especially dangerous source of disease – when birds feed from the ground, they are also exposed to droppings that accumulate below a feeder.” 

Feeders create unnatural congregations of wild birds, and potentially attract domestic birds, increasing the possibility of transmission.

In the notice, Wallace also cautions that transmission to humans is possible in instances where close contact with infected birds, or a heavily contaminated area has occurred.

Wallace says that confirmed reports of the virus have occurred in small flocks in Richmond, the Okanagan and the Kootenays. Also reported in BC, three snow geese, and one Canadian goose in the Vanderhoof area along with bald eagles near 100 Mile House, Bowen Island and Vancouver. 

The SPCA is also asking that the public pay attention to their local birds. Signs that a bird may be sick include lethargy, unusually fluffed up, nasal discharge, excessively watery eyes or swelling of the head and eyelids. Sightings of sick or dead wild birds should be reported to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1-800-567-2033. Wildlife rehabilitation centres and veterinary clinics are not equipped to test for the disease.

Hummingbird feeders are a low risk because they are species specific and each feeder only has a select group eating from it. However, it is important to regularly clean and refill the feeders to prevent deadly fungal outbreaks, and remove it immediately if you see sick birds using it.