MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota is asking people to not fill bird feeders or birdbaths to help stop the spread of bird flu this spring.
In a post on Facebook, The Raptor Center’s Executive Director and Veterinary Epidemiologist, Dr. Victoria Hall urged the public to do everything they can to help prevent the gathering of songbirds.
Hall says the country is facing an unprecedented outbreak of avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds.
While most research about bird flu’s effects centers around waterfowl, shorebirds and seabirds, since they are the birds that most often survive the illness, the Raptor Center is concerned about the virus’ effect on raptors as they often die from the virus.
"During these unprecedented times, we recommend doing anything that we can to try and help our wild bird populations. Because the science is unclear on the role of songbirds in this current H5N1 outbreak, one consideration is to not encourage birds to gather together at places such as bird feeders or birdbaths. These are places where things like viruses could easily be exchanged between individuals," Hall wrote.
Hall stresses the outbreak won’t last forever, but action now will help end it as quickly as possible.
Businesses, nonprofits take steps to curb spread of bird flu
The Easter season is a busy one at Anoka-Ramsey Farm and Garden for chick and duck sales.
"This weekend is probably our biggest weekend of the year for poultry," said owner Tom Tidrick.
But in the midst of a bird flu outbreak, they are taking safety seriously.
"Biosecurity is important to us so we are cleaning tanks between arrivals of the chicks, and just generally trying to keep the floors clean," said Tidrick.
The same is true at the Raptor Center in Saint Paul.
"We are doing everything possible to keep people from accidentally bringing it into the center," said executive director Victoria Hall.
They’ve closed their doors to visitors and are making sure workers and volunteers don’t track in any wild bird waste on their shoes.
According to Hall, this outbreak is very different than the one we saw in 2015.
"Same virus, very different way that it’s playing out…in this outbreak, we are seeing an incredible amount in wildlife and it’s geographically all across the country," said Hall.
They test every bird that’s brought to the Center with a swab -- similar to the way humans are tested for COVID-19.
Over the last few weeks, 40% have been positive for avian influenza.
"Anything we can do to help stop some of that transmission or accidentally help that transmission is only going to help our birds this spring," said Hall.
To curb the spread, the Raptor Center is now urging Minnesotans to take down their bird feeders and bird baths for the next month.
Any artificial gathering of birds has the potential to spread the virus, which kills 90-100% of the birds who catch it.
"Taking down your bird feeder just for a little bit is just like not going to the bar in the middle of a COVID surge," said Hall.
Bird flu does not like the heat, so the situation should get better as the weather gets warmer. For now, Hall believes taking down your bird feeder is a small step to help prevent things from getting any worse.
"We need to do everything we can to possibly help our avian friends," said Hall.