Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Bird Flu (Avian Influenza)

Avian influenza, also called bird flu, is a disease of birds that is found in wild waterfowl such as ducks, geese, and swans. This disease can also spread to domestic poultry, including backyard flocks. There are many strains or types of bird flu. One type of bird flu is called Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), and it is lethal to domestic poultry. Waterfowl appear to carry the virus without appearing sick. The currently circulating strains have not affected humans. These viruses are not the same as the H5N1 strain that has sickened people sick elsewhere in the world. For more information, you can view the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publication, "Avian Influenza: Be on the Lookout (PDF)" (574 KB).

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza - Presence in the United States

Different strains of avian influenza have been detected in wild and domestic species. An outbreak involving H5N1, H5N2, and H5N8 occurred in North America beginning in December 2014 and ending in July 2015. The H5N2 strain caused considerable mortality in domestic poultry operations in the Midwest in 2015. More information on HPAI is available on the USDA-APHIS website (link leaves DEC website).

Bird flu viruses are commonly found in wild waterfowl in the United States, but usually affect small numbers of birds and generally do not cause obvious illness.

Bird Flu and Pets

No mammalian cases of the currently circulating virus have been identified. However, backyard poultry has been affected in various states. Other avian influenza strains are capable of sickening pets. It is always best to make sure your pet has been checked by a veterinarian prior to purchase. If your pet has been exposed to a dead bird, routine testing of pets for bird flu is not necessary and is currently unavailable.

No vaccinations are currently available for pets, but you can protect your pet by not letting them roam outside where they could be exposed to sick animals or eat the remains of dead wildlife. Do not let hunting dogs consume dead waterfowl.

If you have concerns about your pet's health, it is best to contact a veterinarian. There have been no confirmed cases of bird flu transmission between humans and pets.

Bird Flu and Wild Birds

Currently, certain dead wild birds are being tested so that if HPAI bird flu occurs in New York, we will recognize it right away. State and Federal agriculture and wildlife agencies have a list of birds that are of most concern and have begun testing these birds. Most birds do not need to be tested.

Waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, and raptors, such as hawks and eagles, are the top priority to be tested. The vast majority of backyard birds - robins, sparrows, pigeons, cardinals, etc. - do not need to be reported or tested. Avian influenza usually involves migratory waterfowl, not backyard songbirds. If you are concerned about dead waterfowl in your area, contact your regional Department of Environmental Conservation office.

There is no need to report a single dead bird unless it is an eagle. Dead crows are still used to track West Nile virus in some situations. Other types of birds do not have to be reported unless there are several dead birds in the same area. Call your regional Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) office if you see more than two dead birds in the same place. DEC will decide if testing is needed. To dispose of a dead bird, use a shovel and wear gloves to double-bag the dead bird and throw it in the trash, or bury it at least three feet deep, away from a stream or other water source. Always wash your hands thoroughly after disposing of a dead bird in this way.

Feeding Birds

There is no need to change your normal practices for feeding backyard birds at this time. If the HPAI bird flu does occur in New York, experts may have different advice. It will depend on what has been learned about the role of wild birds in spreading bird flu to humans. However, you should not feed ducks, geese, and other waterfowl. Unlike backyard birds, waterfowl are more likely to be infected when bird flu is present. There are many other reasons that you should not feed ducks and geese:

  • It increases the chance of spreading many diseases that are common among waterfowl.
  • It makes them tame and causes them to become a nuisance.
  • They lose their natural behaviors.

It is best to enjoy your local wildlife from a distance!

Hunting Waterfowl

There is no need to stop hunting waterfowl. However, waterfowl hunters should always take simple precautions to protect themselves from exposure to disease, including:

  • Do not handle obviously sick birds or birds found dead.
  • Keep your game birds cool, clean, and dry.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning harvested waterfowl.
  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning waterfowl.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning waterfowl.
  • Clean up tools and surfaces immediately with hot, soapy water and disinfect with a mixture of 10 percent household chlorine bleach in water.
  • Thoroughly cook harvested waterfowl (165º Fahrenheit).

Human Exposure to Bird Flu

You don't have to be concerned that neighbor's poultry and animals will expose you to bird flu at this time. If HPAI bird flu does occur in New York, additional guidance from experts will be developed.

It is safe for a child to take part in projects that involve hatching eggs and raising chicks. Chickens that get infected with bird flu become ill and often stop laying eggs, so there is little risk of bird flu. However, chicks can carry other diseases such as salmonella. Projects involving hatching eggs and raising chicks should minimize hand contact and require thorough hand washing if contact does occur.

There is no evidence that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source of infection from bird flu. Because other common diseases such as salmonella infection can be spread by eating undercooked poultry or eggs, always cook them thoroughly. Wash your hands with soap and hot water after touching any raw meat. Make sure to clean cutting boards and counters used for food preparation immediately after use to prevent cross contamination with other foods.

You cannot get bird flu from Canada goose droppings in parks, ballparks, reservoirs and other public places. However, many different bacteria, viruses, and parasites are present in feces. It is best to avoid exposure to bird droppings. The following precautions should be taken:

  • Teach children to always wash their hands after playing outside.
  • If you pick up droppings, use a shovel, "pooper scooper," or gloves - never your bare hands.
  • If you are worried about exposure during swimming, swim at a regulated beach. Regular tests are conducted to make sure the water is not polluted from human, animal or farm waste.