There were confirmed cases from January 2018 of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the strain H5N6 in wild birds in England. The Animal and Plant Health Agency and Defra kept a regularly updated summary of the 2017-18 winter avian influenza (bird flu) situation. Cases were found last winter in several species of waterbirds, including Mute Swan, Canada Goose and Pochard.
Please use the Defra or DAERA helpline (see "What To Do" below) to report wild bird die-offs in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and refer to the latest government information.
When infections are identified in captive birds, usually a protection zone of 3km and a surveillance zone of 10km are put in place around the infected premises where the disease has been confirmed. Ringing is suspended within surveillance zones (see "Advice for Ringers" below). When there are cases in wild birds, prevention zones may be ordered for higher risk areas or across countries which specify actions required by keepers of captive birds, but these do not affect ringing or other birdwatching activities (although please follow the general advice below).
General government guidance on avian influenza can be found at: www.gov.uk/avian-influenza-bird-flu for England, www.gov.scot/avianinfluenza for Scotland, http://gov.wales/topics/environmentcountryside/ahw/disease/avianflu/?lang=en for Wales and https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/avian-influenza-ai for Northern Ireland. The guidance includes the actions required by poultry keepers to protect their birds from disease in prevention zones.
The latest information from Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency on the current outbreaks in poultry, captive and wild birds in Europe can be found at: gov.uk/government/publications/avian-influenza-bird-flu-in-europe
The BTO 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.
What to do
Birdwatchers can be of great assistance in staying alert for unusual cases of mortality or sickness in wild birds. If you notice unusual mortality in Great Britain, i.e. five or more wild birds dead in the same location, you should report them by calling the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 (Mon-Fri 8am to 6pm) and selecting option 1, or by emailing defra.helpline [at] defra.gsi.gov.uk.In Northern Ireland such wild bird mortality incidents should be reported to the DAERA Helpline: 0300 200 7840.
Reports are also encouraged when three or more dead wild ducks, geese, swans or gulls are found. Not all birds may be picked up for testing, but collating this information may reveal patterns of mortality.
It should be stressed that HPAI is a disease of birds. It is of great concern for the poultry industry but does not appear to be a major issue for human health in the UK. Whilst deaths have occurred in other countries, the numbers of cases have been very low and have been confined to people in very close contact to infected poultry. The advice is that there is no danger from eating well-cooked poultry and there is certainly no danger from normal birdwatching activities. Sensible basic hygiene should be used if you do come into closer contact with birds.
It is extremely unlikely that bird flu could be transmitted to people by feeding birds in the garden. The H5N8 strain of bird flu currently present in the UK wild bird population has never transferred to humans.
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 in your garden with dilute disinfectant (normal household bleach diluted 1:20).
Advice for Ringers
Ringing should be suspended within any 10km Surveillance Zones where these are put in place around infected premises. The location of these zones can be seen on the government’s interactive map. Local ringers will be informed by BTO when zones are put in place and lifted. Ringing suspensions are not currently introduced around cases of dead wild birds which test positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza.
During the prolonged outbreak, we suggest that ringers carefully consider their activities, especially the provision of food, around any poultry units and be mindful of concerns raised by local landowners.
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 five 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 and contact Defra using the details above. This is particularly important for species like waterfowl. Death or illness in garden birds can also be reported to the Garden Wildlife Health project.
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.
Winter bird ID and WeBS (Residential, Flatford Mill, Suffolk)
Improve your winter bird ID skills and learn all about the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) on this weekend residential course for relative beginners and improvers. With a focus on waterfowl and waders, discover more about...
Unlocking the science to reveal the state of nature
David Noble takes a sober look at the latest State of Nature Report.