An increasing number of avian flu cases in neighboring states spurred the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ recommendation, according to spokesperson Ed Golder.
“One easy way the public can help to reduce the potential spread of the disease is to remove outdoor bird feeders. There’s not a lot of widespread recommendations from state agencies like ours to do that yet but temporary removal out of an abundance of caution could be helpful,” Golder said.
If you own birds that are at high risk — like chickens — Golder says removing feeders is important to reduce the chance of transmission.
“Domestic birds and some wild birds like waterfowl, raptors, scavengers, are highly susceptible,” Golder said.
The DNR acknowledges more research is needed to better understand the virus and how it spreads.
“Songbirds, the kind of birds you typically see at bird feeders, are less susceptible to highly pathogenic avian influenza and are unlikely to play a significant role in spreading the virus,” Golder said.
Other wildlife officials agreed removing bird feeders is a smart move, out of an abundance of caution.
“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,” said Dr. Victoria Hall, executive director and veterinary epidemiologist at The Raptor Center.
The temporary removal recommendation is causing some confusion.
“We actually did remove it because we had heard the avian flu was in Michigan,” said Eearon Henderson-King.
He does not own chickens or other susceptible birds, and is trying to figure out the best approach.
“If it’s a case that doing something might harm them, I’m perfectly willing to wait,” Henderson-King said.
“Our customers really want to do the right thing but they’re not exactly sure what that is,” said Laura Rancour, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Kentwood, Michigan. “We just recommend that you do it in a responsible manner by always washing your feeder, cleaning it with bleach, washing your birdbath, cleaning up underneath your feeders.”
The Wild Bird Feeding Institute provides guidelines on how to take precautions. The guidance suggests cleaning feeders and birdbaths weekly and to also clean under your feeder if you notice seed under there that has become wet or moldy.
The institute also suggests keeping an eye out for infected birds, which may appear lethargic or swollen and may be breathing more rapidly. If you think infected birds may be congregating at your feeder, you may want to consider taking it down for a while.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.5 million poultry have been affected by the avian flu outbreak so far. The disease is less common in wild birds but still spreading. There have been 899 cases detected in wild birds, as of Wednesday.
No human cases have been confirmed in the U.S., but China reported its first human case of bird flu this week.
While the virus is a big threat to bird populations, it’s much less scary for people. Bird-to-human transmissions are rare but are more common for people who work with birds, like on poultry farms.
You shouldn’t fear consuming poultry or eggs as a result of the bird flu either, says the CDC. Both should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as always, to kill any bacteria or viruses – including this influenza.