Preventing bird flu

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Bird flu – the symptoms

Bird flu is spread by direct contact between birds, and through contamination in the environment, for example in bird droppings. This means wild birds carrying the disease can infect domestic poultry, so the best way to reduce the risk of your poultry catching bird flu is to minimise the chance of them coming into contact with wild birds or their droppings by practising good biosecurity.

The winter means a reduction in natural foods so wild birds will seek out poultry feed and water during the tough months, and migratory birds begin to arrive from the Continent. 

Winter action

It’s a good idea to review your biosecurity measures in the winter months and take action to:

  • Minimise movement in and out of your bird enclosure.
  • Clean footwear before and after visiting your birds.
  • Minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures.
  • Keep bird enclosures clean and tidy and regularly disinfect any hard surfaces.
  • Humanely control rats and mice.
  • Place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas that wild birds cannot access, and remove any spilled feed.
  • Keep your birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around the outdoor areas they access.
  • Ensure the areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds. For example, by netting ponds and by removing wild bird food sources.
  • Make sure equipment, feed and bedding are stored undercover so they cannot be contaminated by wild birds.
  • Reduce any existing contamination by cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off wet or boggy areas.

How to spot avian influenza

There are 2 types of avian influenza – High Pathogenicity (HPAI) or Low Pathogenicity (LPAI). HPAI is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of neck and throat
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • fewer eggs laid
  • increased mortality

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species (for example, ducks and geese) may show minimal clinical signs.

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection. The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and whether it has any other illnesses. Anyone who keeps poultry must keep a close watch on them for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns. Avian Influenza is a notifiable disease meaning it is a legal requirement to report any suspicion of disease.

Online tool for poultry keepers

A new online ‘chicken dashboard’ is intended for use by poultry owners and small producers and their vets. It should serve as an invaluable resource for up-to-date information on disease and health issues in small and backyard flocks, from egg peritonitis and red mite to Marek’s disease. The dashboard can be accessed via

If a member of the public finds dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, 
they should report them to the Defra helpline: 03459 33 55 77.

Last edited: 11 December 2019 at 09:42

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