Bird disease update: feed restrictions lifted (2023)

It can be alarming to see sick birds near your feeder. Learn about common bird diseases and get an update on a new mysterious bird disease.

If a sick-looking bird shows up at your feeder, it may cause some concern. Don't worry though. Just keep your feeders andclean birdbaths, this is not something to be obsessed with. Even more reassuring is that few of the common poultry diseases are directly transmissible to humans. For example, West Nile virus, a disease commonly found in the crow family, including jays and magpies, is transmitted to humans bymosquitoes, not by birds. For humans to contract this disease, a mosquito that has bitten a bird with the virus must then bite a human.

Here are the five most common backyard bird diseases that have been extensively studied at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. In addition, we have an update on a new mysterious disease that has affected birds in some parts of the US. There is good news: there are no more reported cases of this mysterious bird disease. All 11 states that had not issued feeding advisories have now lifted or allowed their restrictions to expire. This means that you can safely start feeding the birds in your garden again.

For more information about these bird diseases, please contact theNational Wildlife Health Center.

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New Mystery Bird disease

In April 2021, people in the mid-Atlantic in the US began to see songbirds suffer and then die from strange symptoms.

Many of these birds had swollen eyes, often with crusty discharge, and some appeared to be blind. Their nervous system was also affected. The birds moved restlessly, shook their heads, flapped their wings or seemed disoriented. Most of the birds that initially showed symptoms belonged mainly to the larger songbirdsordinary scratches,Blue Jay,European starlingsInAmerican robins. The disease has also been observed in many other species, including sparrows,northern cardinals, gray kittens,Carolina RansInnorth flashes. Most of the affected birds were young, although some adults were also affected.

Birds with these symptoms were first seen in Washington, DC, and by late May they had been widely reported in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Later, birds suffering from the same condition were found in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana, and possibly other states as well. Hundreds of birds have died from this ordeal. Many were sent to various natural labs for analysis.

What Caused This Mysterious Bird Disease?

As of September 2021, the cause of this bird disease has not been determined. Some of the dead birds were tested for bird flu and West Nile virus and the results came back negative. As several scientists have pointed out, the disease is concentrated in areas where 'Bread X'periodic cricketshad a big show this spring. The younger stages of these crickets had spent years burrowing underground. They may have absorbed various toxins or be infected by some kind of fungus. These pathogens could have been transferred to any bird that ate the crickets -- and young birds would be more at risk from these toxins than adults. It is a plausible theory, but so far there is no confirmation. And some birds apparently suffering from this condition have been found in areas where Brood X cicadas have not occurred.

(Video) Bird Feeder Ban Lifted - You Oughta Know (2021)

What should you do?

The biggest question is whether this disease is contagious. So far we don't know, so it's best to err on the side of caution and clean your feeders regularly. If you notice birds suffering or dying from these symptoms, do not pick them up unless you are wearing rubber gloves. Do not take them to a wildlife shelter without calling first to make sure they are ready to accept such birds. Call your state wildlife protection agency because most of these wildlife departments follow up on reports.

If birds with these symptoms are found near your property again, most scientists and wildlife professionals agree that it's best to remove all bird feeders and bird baths immediately. Wash them thoroughly with a 10% bleach solution, rinse well and leave for at least a few weeks. If this mysterious disease is contagious, feeders and baths would be prime places for it to spread from one bird to another. We shouldn't take this risk. Find birdslots of natural foods, which would be the safest option in this unusual situation.

House spark disease

Bird disease update: feed restrictions lifted (1)Thanks to Sonja Puhek

Birds infected with this disease (also called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis) appear to have red, swollen, runny, or crusty eyes. While some sick birds recover, many die from starvation, exposure or predation. This bird disease can also spread toAmerican Goldfinchand other finches. Like birdsherd togetherin feeders disease transmission becomes more likely.

Bird pox

There are two forms of birdpox. In the most common form, warts appear on the non-feathered areas of the body, such as around the eye, base of the beak, legs, and feet. In the second form, plaques develop on the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, trachea, and lungs, resulting in impaired breathing and nutrition. The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with contaminated birds or contaminated feed, or through ingestion of contaminated food or water.

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Psst - check out9 foods you should never feed to birds.


This is a fungal disease of birds that affects the respiratory system of birds. Outward symptoms include difficulty breathing, weight loss, and increased thirst. Birds may also have difficulty walking. When their eyes are infected, there may be a white cloudiness in one or both eyes, accompanied by discharge. Sick birds become infected by ingesting or inhaling mold spores from contaminated food. A possible source is birdseed that has been wet for too long. If you have savedbirdseed that looks wet or moldy, it is better to throw it away than risk feeding it to birds.


This is a relatively common cause of death in feeders, but the symptoms are not always obvious. Birds sick with the salmonella bacteria may appear thin, fuzzy, and depressed, and may have blocked airways and swollen eyelids. They are often lethargic and easily approachable. Birds sick enough to show symptoms usually die within a few days. Salmonella is mainly transmitted through contamination of food and water with bird droppings. But salmonella can also be passed on to people who handle infected birds, so always wear gloves when picking up sick or dead birds and wash your hands thoroughly afterwardsclean feeding troughs.


This bird disease usually affects pigeons, doves and the predators that feed on them. It is characterized by increased lesions in the mouth, esophagus and crop. Infected birds can contaminate birdbaths with their oral secretions, which in turn can expose many other birds to the disease.

(Video) Ohio wildlife officials lift recommendation to stop feeding birds

What about Bald Birds?

Bird disease update: feed restrictions lifted (2)Brett Morrison

This is a fairly common phenomenon that is not caused by disease. The most notable sick-looking birds are northern cardinals and blue jays whose head feathers have fallen out, revealing bare black skin. Bird diseases aren't to blame here - instead, it's a pest. Affected birds usually survive and regrow their head feathers within a few weeks.

But believe it or not, baldness is sometimes caused by environmental factors such as nutritional deficiencies or feather mites, but is usually the result ofrui. To preserve their feathers for flight and to keep them waterproof and insulating, birds regularly replace their plumage with new feathers in a process called molting. In some birds, the folding of the head occasionally occurs at the same time.

Help fight bird diseases

  • If you find a sick bird, it is best to report it to your national or local conservation organization.
  • If you find a bird that appears to be dead from one of these avian diseases, place it in a double plastic bag and in the trash with gloves on.
  • Always clean your feeders often. If sick birds come to visit, minimize the risk of infecting other birds by cleaning the area quickly and thoroughly. You may need to remove your feeders for a week or so. This will encourage sick birds to leave the area. I am studyinghow to clean hummingbird feeders.

Then learn everything you need to knowbird flu- including whether a breakout means you need to remove your feeders.

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Is it safe to put bird feeders back out now? ›

That means there is currently low risk of an outbreak among wild songbirds, and no official recommendation to take down feeders unless you also keep domestic poultry, according to the National Wildlife Disease Program.

Can we feed birds again in Michigan? ›

LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced it's safe to put up bird feeders.

Is it OK to feed birds in Indiana now? ›

DNR has lifted its recommendation for Indiana residents to refrain from feeding birds in all counties. Residents throughout Indiana may again put out their bird feeders if they are comfortable doing so and are not observing sick or dead birds in their yard.

Can you feed the birds now? ›

However, feeding and providing water to wild birds is generally discouraged because the increased congregation of wild birds at bird feeders and bird baths may lead to fecal contamination of the local environment, which can aid in disease transmission.

Should you put out bird feeders with avian flu? ›

It's important to know that this bird flu is hard for people to catch. It does not easily infect people. So if you enjoy feeding backyard birds, go ahead. Clean and disinfect bird feeders regularly and wash your hands afterward.

Should I take my bird feeder down due to bird flu? ›

However, removing backyard feeders is not somethings USDA specifically recommends to prevent avian influenza unless you also take care of poultry. People who care for poultry should prevent contact between wild birds and poultry by removing sources of food, water, and shelter that attract wild birds.

When can we refill bird feeders? ›

You can refill your feeders frequently or sporadically. Some people refill their feeders multiple times a day (especially during the nesting season) , many do it once a week, and others refill them once a month.

When should you stop feeding Orioles? ›

So, to answer the question, leave your feeders up until you are sure there no orioles left passing through the area. If you have not seen an oriole in a week or two, chances are they have left for the year. Keeping your feeders on standby and a container of BirdBerry Jelly handy is always good practice - just in case!

Is it a felony to feed birds in Michigan? ›

Feeding the birds in Michigan is not illegal, however using a bird feed that attracts deer or elk is against the law. If you are caught attracting the deer or elk at your bird feeder, it is a $500 misdemeanor the first two times. After that it becomes a felony charge.

How often should you feed wild birds? ›

Refill your feeders only once per day.

Birds are very skillful at finding food. Natural food sources come and go during the year, so birds are always looking for new supplies. Birds are unlikely to starve if you stop feeding birds in your backyard. They'll look elsewhere.

Is it okay to feed hummingbirds in Indiana? ›

When Should I Put Out Hummingbird Feeders in Indiana? You should put out your hummingbird feeders in Indiana in mid-March, or about two weeks before you expect the earliest hummingbirds to start to arrive. That ensures you won't miss any hummers!

Can I feed birds with the bird flu in Indiana? ›

INDIANAPOLIS – While Illinois and Michigan have issued recommendations against using bird feeders amid an outbreak of avian influenza, an Indiana wildlife expert says Hoosiers can keep putting them out.

Do wild birds recognize humans who feed them? ›

With that said, birds remember human kindness and learn to associate you with it, and they don't forget reliable food and water sources. So, if you are regularly filling your feeders and baths, the birds will use them and learn that you are the one providing them with the food when they see you doing so.

Can birds eat apples? ›

Birds also enjoy other fruits such as oranges, plums, apples, grapes, cherries, crabapples, and prickly pear. Birds may swallow small fruits whole, and any seeds that are defecated could regrow into new plants for future fruit crops. Larger fruits may be pierced, shredded, or torn for birds to reach the flesh.

Can birds eat oatmeal? ›

Porridge oats could also be a nutritious food source for the birds in your garden, and chances are you'll have them readily available in your kitchen. However, ensure the oats are uncooked as cooked oats could harden around a bird's beak.

Are hummingbirds affected by avian flu? ›

According to Dr. Victoria Hall of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, hummingbird feeders are not without risk when it comes to spreading disease. They do, however, pose a lower risk than general feeders as there are limited groups of birds visiting them.

How do you clean bird feeders to prevent bird flu? ›

Where bird feeders, feedings areas and even birdbaths are concerned, these and other debilitating illnesses can often be prevented with proper, routine hygiene. Schneider recommends the following: Clean feeders weekly using a 10-percent bleach solution – one part bleach to nine parts water – and rinse them thoroughly.

Is bird flu still around 2023? ›

Status update: 30/05/2023 – Lifting of the Protection Zone (avian influenza). Avian Influenza was confirmed at a premises near Montgomery, Powys on 27 April. The 3km Protection Zone in place around the premises has been lifted. A 10km Surveillance Zone remains in place around the infected premises.

Can backyard birds get bird flu? ›

Most wild birds infected with bird flu viruses are asymptomatic (i.e., do not exhibit signs or symptoms of illness). Some bird flu viruses can infect domestic poultry and other domestic and backyard birds, and outbreaks of bird flu in domestic poultry occur worldwide.

Can cardinals get bird flu? ›

Most common songbirds or other birds found in the yard, like cardinals, robins, sparrows, blue jays, crows or pigeons, do not get infected with the bird flu viruses that can be dangerous to poultry or possibly spread to people.

Is there a bird flu going around? ›

There have been no documented cases of human-to-human transmission of H5N1. As of April 2023, only a single person had been potentially infected in the U.S., but this could have been a misdiagnosis because they had been culling birds.

What is emptying my bird feeder at night? ›

Raccoons forage at night, so they'll miss the free lunch you're providing. Another equally simple solution is to bring your bird feeders in at night and put them back out the next morning. Either way, your birds won't miss out and you'll likely save on seed costs.

Can I leave my bird feeder out in the rain? ›

Feeders that are on poles or stands should be placed under an awning, covered porch, or patio. Keep in mind that birds may have trouble finding your feeders if they're all the way under a shelter. Just be sure that the bulk of the feeder is in a spot where it will remain dry despite the rain.

Do birds tell each other where food is? ›

There are also contact calls, which birds can use to talk to each other when foraging for food. So I would say yes, birds do talk and communicate where food is, in their own way.

Do orioles eat grape jelly all summer long? ›

Feed Grape Jelly to Orioles

Orioles love sweet sugary treats in spring, as they finish their long migrations. Grape jelly and fruit are high-energy foods that give them the boost they need to sustain their travels.

Is grape jelly good for Baltimore Orioles? ›

Orioles love grape jelly. Folks have also had good luck with other types of jelly as well but grape seems to be most popular with them. If you can it's best to use homemade grape jelly or try to find one such as Birdberry Grape jelly created specifically for wild birds that does not contain high fructose corn syrup.

Why did the orioles leave my feeder? ›

The cause for their sudden disappearance is that while they are nesting and feeding young, the diet changes to add protein so that the young birds grow healthy. This means they are hunting insects instead of visiting your feeders. They may have started migrating: see next heading.

Can you feed deer in your yard in Michigan? ›

Feeding also increases the potential for transmitting disease and increases the potential for vehicle crashes by encouraging deer to cross roadways The State of Michigan has prohibited feeding deer anywhere in the lower peninsula.

When should we stop feeding hummingbirds in Michigan? ›

When to stop feeding hummingbirds. Hummers leave in late August and early September, but you may want to leave your feeders 1/3 full for a few more weeks just in case any straggler pays a late visit to your garden. Make sure that two weeks have passed since your last sighting before you stop topping up the bird feeder.

Is it illegal to feed squirrels in Michigan? ›

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to feed any wild animal in any area in the city.

What is the best wild bird seed? ›

The most bird-catching seed is sunflower. Seasoned bird feeders will also include niger and pumpkin seeds. Other good birdseed choices include black oil sunflower, and red millet. Nuts are also a great choice for birds, but the better the quality, the more seeds will be needed.

What should you not feed to wild birds? ›

Avoid offering birds any foods high in salt, such as salty meats, chips, or other animal foods that include salt for nutritional value. Similarly, no salty seeds, such as sunflower snacks, should be given to birds.

When should you not put out bird seed? ›

Some people prefer not to feed birds in the spring and summer when there is abundant food. However, leaving your feeders up year-round is not a problem as long as you keep a few things in mind: If bears live near you, you should not keep feeders up during the warmer months.

Can you feed hummingbirds bananas? ›

Coarsely chop sweet fruits such as melons, bananas, and oranges, and add them to a hanging dish or tray feeder. Within a day or two, the fruit will attract insects, and hummingbirds will readily investigate the buzzing flies as a food source.

What should you not put in a hummingbird feeder? ›

Always use refined white sugar (regular table sugar). Never use honey, corn syrup or raw, unprocessed sugars. Powdered sugar (also called confectioners' sugar) often contains additional ingredients, such as cornstarch. Therefore, it is not recommended for use in creating hummingbird food.

Where should you not hang a hummingbird feeder? ›

Near an eastward facing garden bench (to avoid the harsh afternoon sun in your eyes). Close, but not too close, to a window (Hummingbirds can hurt themselves in a collision)

Should I stop feeding birds? ›

Should I feed birds year-round? It's not necessary. Bird feeding is most helpful when birds need the most energy, such as during temperature extremes, migration and in late winter or early spring, when natural seed sources are depleted. Most birds don't need your help in the summer.

What is the chicken disease in 2023? ›

On 27 March 2023, the National Health Commission of the People's Republic of China notified WHO of one confirmed case of human infection with an avian influenza A(H3N8) virus. This is the third reported case of human infection with an avian influenza A(H3N8) virus; all three cases have been reported from China.

Why have all the birds left my yard? ›

Birds may temporarily move out of areas to avoid droughts, floods, storms, exceptional heat and cold waves, and other unusual weather conditions.

Where do birds go in the rain? ›

When bad weather hits, birds generally seek shelter from wind and rain in dense shrubs or thickets, next to heavy tree trunks, and on the downwind side of woods and forests. Cavity-nesting birds hunker down in nest boxes and natural cavities to ride out storms.

What birds can remember humans? ›

Ravens and other members of the corvid family (crows, jays, and magpies) are known to be intelligent. They can remember individual human faces, expertly navigate human environments (like trash cans), and they even hold funerals for their dead.

Do birds know you're watching them? ›

Birds Can Tell If You Are Watching Them -- Because They Are Watching You. Summary: In humans, the eyes are said to be the 'window to the soul,' conveying much about a person's emotions and intentions. New research demonstrates for the first time that birds also respond to a human's gaze.

Can birds eat Cheerios? ›

Birds can eat Cheerios and often love to do so. But that does not mean that they are the healthiest choice for birds (or even for us!). Their high sugar content and salt content mean that they are not the best option if you are looking for foods to share with the birds.

Can birds eat popcorn? ›

Can I Feed Popcorn to Birds? It's not the worst food you can give to birds. It's not toxic like chocolate or honey; a small amount probably won't cause significant problems. However, it's best to avoid feeding popcorn to birds in large quantities.

Do birds eat banana peels? ›

Palatability of Peel

The banana peel, while nutritious and full of vitamins, is not a good thing to give birds. The excess cellulose is tough to digest, which can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Are raisins good for birds? ›

In general, however, most birds can eat raisins safely. Raisins are a good source of natural sugar and nutrients, and they can be a healthy treat for your feathered friends. Just be sure to offer them in moderation, as too many raisins can cause digestive issues.

Are crackers safe for birds? ›

Please don't give wild birds bread, crackers or other human snack foods. Bread has zero nutrition for wild birds. In fact, bread, crackers, chips and other human snacks are, in some ways, WORSE than feeding birds absolutely nothing.

Can birds have cooked rice? ›

Cooked rice, brown or white (without salt added) benefits all sorts of birds during severe winter weather. Pigeons, doves and pheasants may eat uncooked rice but it's less likely to attract other species.

Can we feed the birds in Minnesota now? ›

Given the declining presence of avian flu in wild bird populations, the University of Minnesota Raptor Center says it's now OK to return to backyard bird feeding.

When can bird feeders be put out? ›

StateWhen to put out feeders
Arkansaslate March/early April
Californiamid March/early April or year-round
Coloradomid April
Connecticutlate April/early May
46 more rows

Can I put my bird feeders back up in Ohio? ›

You can now resume using bird feeders in Ohio, wildlife officials say.

How do you feed birds when out of town? ›

If you're only going to be out of town for a couple of days, you don't need to worry about your bird feeders. Fill them up before you leave, and they will be fine. If your trip is longer, ideally you should have a friend or neighbor fill your feeders on your regular schedule.

What birds are affected by the avian flu? ›

Which birds are most likely to be infected with avian (bird) influenza (flu) A viruses? Wild birds that carry bird flu viruses include waterbirds, like ducks, geese and swans, and shorebirds, like storks. Bird flu viruses can easily spread from wild birds to poultry, like chickens and turkeys.

What do you do with a dead bird in your yard? ›

Disposing of Dead Wild Birds

If local authorities tell you to dispose of the bird's carcass (body), wear disposable gloves to pick it up. If you don't have gloves, turn a plastic bag inside out and use it to pick up the carcass. Double-bag the carcass and throw it away in your regular trash.

What to do when you run out of bird food? ›

Plain, cooked pasta and rice is a popular choice and a great source of carbohydrates. Just make sure that they are not coated in sauce or cheese. You can even provide wet or dry dog or cat food for birds! You will need to break up and soak dry foods though, to prevent birds choking.

Why should I take down my bird feeder? ›

If you own birds that are high risks — 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.

What states is the bird flu in? ›

The Eurasian strain H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been detected in wild birds in San Diego, Riverside, San Luis Obispo, San Benito, Marin, and Lassen Counties in California.

Can a human get sick from bird flu? ›

Although avian (bird) influenza (flu) A viruses usually do not infect people, there have been some rare cases of human infection with these viruses. Illness in humans from bird flu virus infections have ranged in severity from no symptoms or mild illness to severe disease that resulted in death.

Can you get avian flu from eggs? ›

You can't catch bird flu through eating fully cooked poultry or eggs, even in areas with an outbreak of bird flu.


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