PEI

Feeding and touching birds could help spread avian flu, expert warns

A wildlife expert on P.E.I. is encouraging people to look but not touch — or feed — wild birds on P.E.I. to help prevent the spread of avian flu in the region.

'We are suggesting that people not do anything that causes birds to congregate'

Wildlife experts are discouraging people on P.E.I. from feeding wild birds. (Colin Mulvany/AP/The Spokesman-Review)

A wildlife expert on P.E.I. is encouraging people to look but not touch — or feed — wild birds on P.E.I. to help prevent the spread of avian flu in the region.

The virus, which can spread to humans, has been confirmed this month in two birds on P.E.I. — a bald eagle and a crow. There are confirmed cases in all four Atlantic provinces, including some birds, such as a blue jay in Nova Scotia, that frequent backyard feeders.

Megan Jones, regional director of Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative for the Atlantic region, said avian flu on P.E.I. did not come as a surprise.

"We expect it to spread for a while," she said. "We know migratory birds are moving back to their summer grounds now, so what we hope is it will taper off and then hopefully we'll never see it again, but nothing is guaranteed."

Jones said people can help mitigate the spread by putting their feeders away.

"We are suggesting that people not do anything that causes birds to congregate," she said. "If they congregate naturally, there's nothing we can do about that, but why draw them together? That's a risk that I don't think is necessary right now."

Megan Jones, an assistant professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College and also the regional director of Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative for the Atlantic region, says more cases of avian flu are expected on P.E.I. (Zoom)

Feeding ducks and shorebirds — which are particularly susceptible to avian flu, is also discouraged.

"If you're out watching birds or something like that and not handling them, that's totally fine," Jones said. "Watching birds is a wonderful thing to do. And when you're outdoors at a nice, safe distance, that's totally fine."

AVC unable to take sick birds

Jones, who is also an assistant professor at the Atlantic Veterinarian College in Charlottetown, also recommends against handling dead or sick birds. She said the teaching hospital at the AVC is currently unable to take sick birds. 

"Unless you have an appropriate isolation facility for those birds, which most facilities do not, then you can't really take them in because there's a risk to the birds that are already in the hospital that came in before avian flu was around."

Jones said she appreciates the public's support in reporting dead birds, which helps track the virus. However, anyone who encounters a dead bird should call the provincial department of wildlife to have it safely removed, she said.

With files from Jessica Doria-Brown

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