Avian flu

What hunters need to know
December 2, 2022

An outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza has caused the death of many wild and domestic birds in Oregon. Here’s what hunters and others need to know about the disease.

Sauvie Island cackling geese

What makes this outbreak different?

Low pathogenic strains of avian flu naturally circulate in wild waterfowl and do not kill wild birds. Detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza strains are less common. The last one occurred in the winter of 2014-2015 and mostly affected domestic poultry and some raptors before being replaced by a low pathogenic strain.

Unfortunately, the current highly pathogenic strain first detected in North America a year ago is causing more sickness and death in wild birds especially geese, shorebirds, raptors and scavengers such as vultures. In other parts of North America, this strain has also been detected in some mammals such as coyotes, foxes, and skunks that have likely fed on infected birds.

The virus is infecting more birds in Oregon as they migrate and winter here and the outbreak is expected to continue into 2023.

What are the symptoms of the disease?

Lethargy, inability to fly, erratic behavior, loss of coordination, cloudy eyes, swimming in circles, head shaking. Birds typically die within 72 hours of showing clinical signs.

Where has the disease been detected?

As of November 2022, this strain of avian flu is widespread and has been detected in nearly every Oregon county. Cackling geese have been the most common species that have been killed by this strain. Significant numbers of dead snow geese have also been found in several areas of the state.

What should I do if I see sick or dead birds?

ODFW cannot test every dead bird but may want to test birds in locations where multiple birds have died and the disease has not yet been detected.

You can contact ODFW’s Wildlife Health Lab at 866-968-2600 or odfw.wildlifehealth@odfw.oregon.gov if you see multiple dead birds in the same location.

If you are at a refuge, wildlife area or on other public land, report dead birds to the land manager.

How do I dispose of dead birds?

Do not transport or move dead birds as that could spread the disease. 

But if the dead birds are in your yard, you can double bag them and put them in trash. Wear gloves so you don’t directly touch any sick birds.

If you are in the field on your own property, you can also bury deceased wildlife.

Hunters who encounter sick birds while hunting should not kill those birds or allow retrieving dogs to interact with sick or dead birds.

Wildlife areas, refuges and other public land managers are handling disposal of dead birds on their lands.

How can I protect my backyard chickens or other domestic poultry?

If you are returning from a hunting trip or area where you had contact with other wild or domestic birds, change your shoes and clothing and wash your hands before contact with domestic poultry. See ODA’s Avian Influenza website for other biosecurity measures and information.

Sauvie Island Cackling Geese

Can people catch avian flu?

The risk of this strain of avian flu to people is extremely low. The only known cases involved two people who were in close contact with domestic poultry.

But hunters and others should take precautions:

• Do not harvest birds that are obviously sick or found dead.

• Wear rubber or latex gloves when handling and cleaning game birds.

• Do not eat, drink, smoke or touch your face when handling birds.

• Keep the uncooked game bird meat and its juices away from other foods.

• Thoroughly clean knives and any other equipment or surfaces that touch birds. Use a solution of one third cup of chlorine bleach per one gallon of water.

• Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling birds (or with alcohol-based hand products if your hands are not visibly soiled).

• Cook all game meat thoroughly (up to at least 165° F) to kill disease organisms including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Use a food thermometer to ensure the inside of the bird has reached at least 165° F.

Is my dog at risk?

There are no known cases of domestic dogs becoming sickened by contact with sick birds. But hunters should not feed dogs any raw meat, organs or other tissue from harvested waterfowl or allow retrieving dogs to interact with sick or dead birds.

Are songbirds at risk and should I take down by bird feeder?

Avian flu has been detected in a few songbirds in North America but there are not reports of large outbreaks due to bird feeders. However, it’s always a good idea to keep your bird feeders clean and take them down if birds are dying at the feeder or in your neighborhood. Dirty feeders commonly transmit salmonella, E. coli, viruses, parasites and other diseases among songbirds.

Can sick birds be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator?

No. There is not a cure for avian flu. Currently rehabilitators in Oregon are not accepting waterfowl due to the risk of the disease spreading to other birds in their facilities.

What kind of impact will this have on bird populations?

Unfortunately, if the mortality levels seen during late 2022 continue through winter, this outbreak of avian flu could noticeably reduce some waterfowl populations. Wildlife managers monitoring populations and will have a better sense of the impact after surveys are completed next year.