Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (also known as “bird flu”), subtype H5N1, was first detected in wild birds in Canada in December 2021 in Newfoundland and Labrador and has since been detected in all Canadian jurisdictions.
Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease that affects a variety of bird species, including waterfowl, birds of prey, songbirds, and poultry. There are several different avian influenza strains, ranging from those causing mild or no clinical signs (low pathogenicity), to those causing severe clinical signs and high mortality rates (highly pathogenic). Wild birds, particularly waterfowl and other flocking water birds, are the natural reservoirs for all strains of avian influenza viruses and play an important role in prevalence and spread. As such, all efforts should be taken to minimize any exposure to sick, injured, or deceased wild birds.
Wildlife, including birds, can die from a variety of natural processes, and not all dead birds will be the result of avian influenza. As a general guideline, members of the public are advised to not handle live or dead wild birds. If contact with wild birds is unavoidable, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends wearing gloves or using a doubled plastic bag and avoiding contact with blood, body fluids and feces. Then wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
Anyone who has handled wild birds and later developed flu-like symptoms should advise their health-care provider that they have had direct contact with wild birds.
If you have found the carcass of a dead wild bird, you have several options for disposal of the carcass:
- If the dead bird is in the forest or other wildlands, the carcass can be left on the landscape for natural decomposition and/or scavenging by other wildlife.
- The bird carcass can be buried on-site to a minimum depth of 20 cm using a shovel.
- The bird carcass can be double-wrapped in plastic bags and placed in household garbage.
If you encounter 5 or more dead birds at one location, please contact your nearest office of the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development.
For more information on bird handling guidelines and food safety for members of the public, including hunters, bird banders, aviculturalists, and wildlife rehabilitation centers, please visit the Public Health Agency of Canada website.