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Illinois Department of Natural Resources
May 2022
May 2, 2022
Photo by Steve Hillebrand, USFWS.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Reported in Illinois Birds

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By IDNR, IDOA

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) are working together on advising the public on reports of the H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), or Avian Flu, as it may impact both wild and domestic bird species.

Two black and white bald eagles perch on a pine tree branch.
Photo by Michael R. Jeffords.

IDNR and IDOA received notice from USDA Wildlife Services of the first confirmed case of Avian Flu in a wild bird in Illinois for 2022 when three Canada geese, located in Will County were submitted for sampling on March 2, 2022. The findings were confirmed by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory on March 10. Since that time, wild bird mortality from HPAI has been confirmed in Champaign, Fulton, Sangamon, and Will counties with a more recent mortality event of more than 200 birds in Cook County confirmed to be caused from HPAI. Wild birds impacted include waterfowl and waterbird species, as well as some raptors, including bald eagles.

Avian influenza (AI) is caused by an influenza type A virus which can infect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) and wild birds (especially waterfowl). AI viruses are classified by a combination of two groups of proteins: hemagglutinin or “H” proteins, of which there are 16 (H1–H16), and neuraminidase or “N” proteins, of which there are 9 (N1–N9). AI viruses are further classified by their pathogenicity—the ability of a particular virus strain to produce disease in domestic chickens.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus strains are extremely infectious, often fatal to chickens, and can spread rapidly from flock-to-flock. 

Low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) virus strains occur naturally in wild migratory waterfowl and shorebirds without causing illness. LPAI can infect domestic poultry, creating little or no signs of illness. 

A group of tan and brown chicken hens forage in a grassy barnyard.
Photo by Thomas Iversen, Unsplash.

Wild bird detections have been occurring throughout early 2022 and many states have also experienced detections in domestic poultry recently. While Illinois has not seen any Avian Flu in commercial poultry within the state this year, two backyard non-poultry producers have been impacted. This coupled with reported wild bird mortalities demonstrates that the virus is present and circulating within the wild bird population in Illinois. Commercial poultry producers in Iowa and other surrounding states have been harder hit.

Anyone observing five or more deceased wild waterfowl, waterbirds, or raptors in one location, or any number of sick or dead bald eagles, should contact their local IDNR district wildlife biologist or USDA Wildlife Services at 1-866-487-3297.

Poultry Production

  • Anyone who owns birds or is involved with poultry production, whether on a small or commercial level, should be aware of this finding and take precautions to protect their flock.
  • Producers and owners should review their biosecurity plans and prevent contact with wild birds and their droppings. IDOA also strongly encourages all producers to keep birds indoors when possible.
  • Flock owners, managers or veterinarians should report any unusual findings in domestic poultry such as increase in mortality, decrease in water consumption, decrease in egg production, or respiratory signs including coughing and sneezing immediately to the IDOA at (217) 782-4944 or the USDA at 866-536-7593.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) works closely with States and the poultry industry to prevent AI from becoming established in the U.S. poultry population. Keeping our nation’s poultry free from avian influenza helps protect our farmers’ livelihoods. Learn more at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/downloads/animal_diseases/ai/faqs.pdf.
A large flock of mixed species waterfowl forage in a wetland. Green vegetation is in the foreground.
Photo by Michael R. Jeffords.

People who may encounter sick or deceased wild birds

  • Avoid handling wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead if you can.
  • If you must dispose of deceased birds, rubber gloves and a mask should be worn, and the carcass should be double-bagged in sealed plastic bags. The bags can be buried away from scavengers or placed in the garbage if approved by the local waste service provider. Anyone handling deceased birds should thoroughly wash their hands and any other clothes or tools with soap and water following disposal.

Persons Owning Bird Feeders and Bird Baths

While information is limited on the role songbirds (passerines) play in the spread of HPAI, the IDNR recommends the use of seed/grain bird feeders be halted through May 31 in an effort to help slow the spread. It is unlikely that hummingbird or oriole feeders will contribute to the spread of HPAI given they are more species specific. Further points regarding bird feeding stations include:

A red and black cardinal and a brown female finch enjoy a meal of seeds from a backyard bird feeder.
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash.
  • The greatest risk of HPAI transmission is seed/grain feeders and bird baths where waterfowl and songbirds may interact, or those in the vicinity of poultry operations or backyard flocks.
  • Persons choosing to leave their bird feeders/baths up should clean such structures weekly with a solution of 9 parts of water to 1 part bleach, followed by a thorough rise. Wear disposable gloves while cleaning and wash hands with soap and water immediately afterward. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Although suet can contain grains/seeds, IDNR feels the fallen waste associated with a suet feeder would be minimal as compared to a traditional grain/seed feeder, resulting in limited issues with waterfowl and domestic poultry/fowl being attracted to it. As some suet mixes will spoil in warmer temperatures, many folks already make a habit of taking down their suet feeders when warmer weather arrives.
  • Homeowners should consider improving bird habitat by planting native shrubs and wildflowers during the month of May as an alternative food source for birds in subsequent years. Recommendations for landscaping with native plants can be found at the IDNR Conservation Inclusive Construction and Development Archive, or CICADA.
A graphic with a photo to the left of a gray and cream colored bird with a feathered crest on its head perched on a tree branch. To the right is text indicating where one can learn more about Avian influenza.
Find the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) website here and the IDOA, HPAI website here. Photo by Michael R. Jeffords.

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