House Finches
House Finches

House Finches enjoying Black Oil Sunflower seeds from a tube feeder. Photo: Jennifer Lint/Great Backyard Bird Count.
House Finches enjoying Black Oil Sunflower seeds from a tube feeder. Photo: Jennifer Lint/Great Backyard Bird Count.

Birds

Dear Audubon Southwest, Should I keep my feeders up?

Your guide to feeding birds amidst an avian flu outbreak

As of April 26, 2022, no cases of avian flu have been reported in Arizona or New Mexico, and there is no need to remove your feeders at this time.

As part of the birding community, you’ve likely heard the news: an outbreak of avian flu has been spreading across North America since last fall, causing mass mortalities of domestic fowl and appearing in wild flocks in unprecedented numbers. Deaths are mostly restricted to domestic birds, waterfowl like ducks and geese, and birds that consume these animals like hawks, eagles, and vultures, the potential impact on other species remains uncertain. All told, more than 40 species have confirmed infections across 31 states and nine Canadian provinces.

Also worth noting, the strain so far appears to be a low public health threat with no cases of human infection having occurred in the United States, according to the CDC. We will continue to monitor the situation with the help of our partners at the Arizona Game and Fish Department and New Mexico Department of Fish and Game, but in the meantime we know that one question prevails: am I doing potential harm by continuing to feed birds?

Some notes on the outbreak:

  • While no cases have been confirmed in Arizona or New Mexico, the virus has been detected in neighboring states including Utah, Colorado, and Texas.
  • In past outbreaks, avian influenza has posed little risk to common songbirds, but recent infections of corvids such as Blue Jays, American Crows, and Common Ravens concern researchers about the possibility of an even larger outbreak.
  • Since the flu is most prevalent in domestic fowl, be especially cautious if you live near industrial poultry operations or keep/live near domestic fowl.
  • USDA APHIS facilitates a surveillance program that regularly samples wild birds, including songbirds and other commonly encountered species such as Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves.  So far this year, the program has detected avian flu in 857 wild birds, with fewer than ten detections in songbirds.  You can learn more about the program here.

What to do if you see sick birds:

  • Birds that show symptoms of avian flu often act disoriented, uncoordinated, and exhibit unusual head movements. If you notice dead birds or birds exhibiting these symptoms, you should contact your local wildlife agency for guidance.

Proper feeder care:

  • Even outside avian flu outbreaks, contagions like salmonella, avian conjunctivitis, mites, avian pox, and less fatal forms of the avian flu are always present in wild bird populations.  Proper feeder care is always critical.
  • Best practices include cleaning your bird feeders and baths regularly, removing any fallen seed or debris from feeding areas, and reporting potentially sick individuals to your local wildlife agency. Click here or a more in depth guide to feeder care.
  • If you have strong concerns or cannot commit to regular feeder care, the safest decision is to remove you feeders for at least a few weeks.

Alternative feeding options:

  • What would you say if we told you that Audubon can point you toward bird feeders that are self-cleaning, self-filling, and cost less than your typical bird feeder? Well, those magical feeders do exist and they’re called native plants!  Check out our Plants for Birds program to learn about how you can use your outdoor spaces to benefit birds and other wildlife while avoiding the dangers of disease-spreading feeders.

We will continue to monitor the situation, communicate with our local wildlife agencies, and inform our network about any changes to the current avian flu situation. For now, happy birding and thank you for making the well-being of your backyard birds a top priority!

How you can help, right now

Audubon Arizona and Audubon New Mexico have joined forces to become Audubon Southwest.