Courtesy of the UCANR News

The highly contagious avian flu is being spread primarily by migratory birds, putting backyard and commercial poultry and game birds at risk.

“Poultry owners should take precautions to prevent their birds from contacting waterfowl or the habitat that waterfowl frequent because this strain of avian influenza is highly contagious,” said Maurice Pitesky, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine associate professor of Cooperative Extension.

Infected waterfowl shed the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus in their feces and respiratory secretions, where the virus can remain viable for months in the environment.

“If you can’t confine your birds in a coop, focus on good sanitation and reducing contact with waterfowl and their habitat such as agricultural fields and ponds,” he said.

Pitesky urges commercial and backyard chicken owners to monitor their birds for the following symptoms:

  • Reduced egg production
  • Trouble breathing
  • Clear, runny discharge from nose, mouth and eyes
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking less
  • Swollen eyes, head, wattles or combs
  • Discolored or bruised comb, wattles or legs
  • Sudden death

To prevent exposure to potentially infected waterfowl, Pitesky suggests reassessing and redoubling biosecurity efforts to prevent contact between wild animals and domestic poultry.

Specifically, he recommends keeping birds away from ponds and other open water where they may contact waterfowl, which are the primary reservoir of the disease. To prevent cross-contamination, use clothing and boots that stay on your property and avoid sharing equipment with other bird owners.

A local veterinarian or UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor may have more suggestions to reduce risk.

For more information about protecting birds from avian influenza, visit

Unusual or suspicious sick or dead domestic birds should be reported to the California Department of Food and Agriculture Sick Bird Hotline at (866) 922-2473.

Suspicious wild bird deaths can be reported to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) at