Avian Flu in Maine

UPDATED: 19 April 2022

In mid February, the USDA and APHIS announced the presence of “highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)” in a (non-commercial) backyard flock of chickens in Knox County. Since then, cases of avian flu have continued to pop up in domestic birds, with a dozen documented cases across six counties (as of 19 April; see all domestic bird cases here). There have also been nine cases of avian flu in wild birds, including two Bald Eagles (see all wild bird cases here). The increase in cases is unfortunate, though it is not unexpected given the nature of this disease. Across the country, this strain of avian flu is spreading faster than the last major outbreak in 2015, now in 27 states and ~1.3% of all US chickens.

While avian flu poses a serious risk to domestic fowl (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl), it is not known to affect songbirds or other ‘feeder birds’ so there is no risk to those groups at this time. Specifically, there is not a need to take down bird feeders or to stop feeding wild birds, unless you also take care of poultry. Anyone raising birds, be it a commercial operation or a backyard flock, is encouraged to keep their birds inside to minimize risk of exposure. To report sick birds or usual bird deaths, contact the state veterinarian’s office at 207-287-7615 or the USDA at 1-866-536-7593.

The recent cases of avian flu being detected in two Bald Eagles is also not unexpected, since raptors are likely to prey on waterfowl that is carrying avian flu, especially if the prey is sick and easy to catch. Other scavengers, like American Crows, are likely to have confirmed cases soon. During the 2015 outbreak, cases peaked in the fourth and fifth month following the first case, so we are (as of 19 April) likely to see things get worse before they get better.

Aside from protecting your owned birds, there is not much we can do to keep birds safe. This is a good reminder to keep your bird feeders, and the ground below your feeders, clean. The avian influenza virus is transmitted via saliva, mucous, and feces, so there is very little risk of human infection, though it is good to take extra precautions (wear gloves, a mask, and perhaps eye protection) if you have species like wild ducks that also visit your feeders.

Along with the increase in avian flu cases, we are also seeing an increase in the number of avian conjunctivitis (aka Mycoplasma gallisepticum or “finch eye disease”) around the state. This is disease is easily spread between feeder birds, especially at tube feeders. Avian conjunctivitis is most common in House Finches, though we’ve been seeing more cases in goldfinches and Evening Grosbeaks lately. If you have a bird at you feeders with swollen or crusty/pink eyes, you should take your feeders down. Discard the seed that was in the feeders and clean the feeder thoroughly. You should also stop feeding for a week or two – you don’t want sick birds coming right back to that feeder. Read more about eye disease here.

 

Helpful resources:

USDA Confirms Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in a Non-Commercial Backyard Flock (Non-Poultry) in Maine

Maine Officials Respond to Avian Influenza Detected in Knox County

Information on Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza A Virus Infections in Humans

How To Clean Your Bird Feeder

House Finch Eye Disease: Outbreak, Then Understanding