Avian Influenza ('Avian flu')
The avian influenza situation is changing rapidly and we are working with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Country Nature Conservation Bodies, Scottish Government, RSPB and other NGOs to understand the impacts on bird populations. Alongside this, we are also considering the implications for our volunteer activities (ringing, nest recording, other surveying). The guidance presented here represents the latest interpretation of the information received by BTO.
The current risk of incursion in wild birds is considered to be HIGH. In winter 2021-22 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 was confirmed in wild waterbirds and birds of prey in Britain. In spring 2022, H5N1 was confirmed in a number of seabird colonies, particularly affecting Great Skuas and Gannets, but it has also been confirmed in other species. Weekly findings of avian influenza in wild birds in Great Britain are published by Government, and the locations of any control zones currently in force can be viewed on the government interactive map. NI and GB-wide Avian Influenza Prevention Zones (AIPZ) have been put in place.
It should be stressed that HPAI is a disease of birds. It is of great concern for the poultry industry but the risk level to humans has been assessed as very low.
Reporting a ring on a dead bird
Valuable information is gained from the reporting of ringed birds found dead.
If possible, wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling dead wild birds, but if these are not available then a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove. When the dead wild bird has been picked up and the ring details noted, the bag can be turned back on itself and tied. It should then be placed in a second plastic bag, tied and disposed of in the normal household waste (lidded bin outside).
What to do if you find a dead bird
Birdwatchers can be of great assistance in staying alert for unusual cases of mortality or sickness in wild birds. Many thousands of birds die every week of natural causes and so it is not unusual to occasionally find dead individuals. If you notice unusual avian mortality in Great Britain, however, you should call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 (Mon-Fri 8am to 6pm) and select option 7. In Northern Ireland, wild bird mortality incidents should be reported to the DAERA Helpline: 0300 200 7840.
Currently, reports are encouraged when any number of dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as seabirds (including gulls) or birds of prey, are found. Helpline staff will be able to advise you on whether a response is required e.g. whether the bodies be collected by a representative for testing; not all birds are tested, but collating sightings may reveal patterns of mortality.
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 (www.ring.ac), then draw the bag over your hand and tie it up and dispose of it in your usual household waste, then wash your hands with soap and water.
Advice when feeding wild birds
There is very low risk that avian influenza 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 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 with dilute disinfectant (normal household bleach diluted 1:20). More advice is available on the Garden Wildlife Health website.
Advice for ringers and nest recorders
Detailed guidance for ringers will be communicated directly to them; all Ringing Scheme participants should also familiarise themselves with the Diseases from Birds factsheet (PDF, 446.84 KB) .
During any prolonged outbreak, we suggest that ringers carefully consider their activities and be mindful of concerns raised by local landowners.
Advice for Seabird Monitoring Programme participants
Undertaking additional colony and productivity counts for species that are still actively nesting is valuable; please enter counts into the SMP Online Data Portal. During any prolonged outbreak, we suggest that surveyors carefully consider their activities and be mindful of concerns raised by local landowners.
Vantage-point surveys can continue if they can be conducted without surveyors coming into close contact with dead or likely infected birds.
We have been informed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) have suspended all ringing and research activities in seabird colonies in Northern Ireland, effective immediately. SMP surveyors should thus not enter colonies (i.e. where you have to walk between nests) in Northern Ireland.
If visiting multiple colonies, then surveyors should consider taking biosecurity measures (see specific Avian Influenza section of Guidance information for volunteer fieldworkers).
Read the general government guidance on avian influenza for England, guidance for Scotland, guidance for Wales and guidance for Northern Ireland. The guidance includes the actions required by poultry keepers to protect their birds from disease in prevention zones.
Read the latest information from Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency on the current outbreaks in poultry, captive and wild birds in Europe.
The EURING migration mapping tool uses recoveries of birds marked with individually identifiable rings to map migration routes in both space and time for wild birds moving to and from Britain and Ireland.
Songbird migration across the Sahara
Mark Wilson, BTO Research Ecologist, reflects on his work tagging songbirds to collect data about their migration routes over the Sahara.
The Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP) works to support the protection and conservation of our internationally important seabird populations.