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Nova Scotians asked to take down bird feeders to stop spread of avian flu

The virus spreads though bodily fluids, so if birds are gathering in one spot, transmission is more likely
A bird feeder Anam Khan/GuelphToday

Nova Scotians are being asked to put their bird feeders away to help curb the spread of a highly infectious strain of avian influenza.

In late January, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency first confirmed H5N1 was in our province when a Canada goose tested positive in the Grand Desert area of Halifax Regional Municipality.

Soon after, the virus was detected in a backyard flock in eastern Nova Scotia, then in a commercial flock in western Nova Scotia.

It has since been confirmed in three more dead birds in our province.

Elizabeth Walsh, a regional biologist with the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, told CityNews Halifax it easily spread among birds and can cause disease and death in both wild and domestic species.

"Avian influenza most naturally occurs in wild aquatic birds, such as ducks, geese and shorebirds," she explained. "They often don't show clinical symptoms of the virus, but they can easily pass it on to other birds."

"It can be commonly found in corvid species such and blue jays, crows and ravens. Pigeons are also known to be susceptible."

Walsh said the virus spreads though bodily fluids such as feces and respiratory tract fluids, so if birds are gathering in one spot, -- like at a backyard feeder -- transmission is more likely.

Bird feeders can also cause the spread other diseases. In previous years, Nova Scotians were asked to take them down due to trichomonosis, an infectious disease caused by a microscopic parasite affecting various species of birds, particularly finches.

And retired wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft said there are other downsides as the weather warms up.

"I've seen females bringing their young to a bird feeder and dropping them off after they've fledged in the spring instead of teaching their kids how to forage over the summer period and what to look for," he explained.

"And hawks will misread a bird feeder, they think it's a place to feed on birds."

Both Bancroft and Walsh say now that we've hopefully made it through the deepest and darkest days of winter, there should be a lot of natural food sources for them.

According to Walsh, avian influenza doesn't pose a big risk to humans, but it can be transmitted to us through handling wild birds or touching contaminated surfaces, including bird feeders.

She recommends keeping your kids and pets away.

If you happen to come in contact with a bird or its bodily fluids, remove your clothing and immediately put it in the wash.

If you find an injured, sick or dead bird, don't touch it and report it to the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables at 1-800-565-2224.

"Department employees will collect the bird and may test it for influenza," Walsh said. "Our employees are properly trained for collection and have the necessary gear to do so safely."


Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana and lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the editor for CityNews Halifax.
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