California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Backyard Birds and Avian Influenza

Backyard birds are small flocks of chickens, ducks, and geese among others kept at home on private property. An outbreak of any type of avian (bird) disease presents a threat to backyard flocks.

AI is transferred from bird to bird through contact with infected bird secretions, feces (bird manure), and contaminated water or food. Backyard bird owners live close to their birds and handle them often putting themselves and their birds at risk for disease.

Practice biosecurity - do everything possible to protect the birds from avian diseases. Many health and agriculture agencies recommend the following.

Keep your distance:

  • Restrict access to the birds. Fence them off or create a barrier between the “dirty area” where the birds are, and the “clean area” which is the area immediately surrounding the birds.
  • Only allow people who take care of the birds to have contact with them.
  • Prevent contact between your birds and wild birds of all types. Place a fine mesh screen around your birds’ enclosure and solid roof over them to prevent wild bird droppings from getting into their area. Bird droppings carry viruses.
  • Do not let your birds run loose.

Keep it clean:

  • Keep the backyard bird area as clean as possible. Keep a pair of shoes and set of clothes to be wear only around the birds in the clean area.
  • Scrub your shoes with a long-handled scrub brush and disinfectant to remove droppings, mud or debris. Wash clothes with detergent.
  • Wear disposable gloves when cleaning the coop. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling the birds and especially before eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth while working with the birds.
  • Keep cages, food and water clean on a daily basis. Disinfect food and water dishes once a week. Clean and disinfect all tools and equipment that have contact with the birds (feed scoops, shovels, rakes and brooms). Remove all manure before disinfecting. Viruses live in manure.
  • Thoroughly cook eggs and meat. Wash eggs thoroughly before bringing them in. Do not slaughter poultry on your property. Keep food preparation areas very clean. Sanitize all tools and counters after preparing the food.

Avoid bringing disease home:

  • Car and truck tires, poultry cages, and all equipment can harbor germs. If you travel to a location where birds are present, disinfect the items before returning home.
  • If visiting an area where wild birds congregate (zoos, wildlife areas, upland game or waterfowl hunts) or where feral waterfowl congregate (city/county parks), do not have contact with your birds until you have completed cleaned and disinfected yourself, your clothing, boots, car, etc.
  • Keep dogs away from the backyard birds, especially if they are taken for walks in parks or locals where wild birds congregate.
  • If taking some birds out for an exhibit or fair, keep those birds separated from the rest of the birds for at least two weeks after bringing them home to make sure they did not pick up a disease.
  • Separate new birds from your flock for at least 30 days before putting them in with rest.
  • Avoid mixing species (i.e. waterfowl and chickens, ducks and geese, etc).

Avoid borrowing disease from your neighbor:

  • Do not share birds, lawn and garden equipment or poultry supplies with neighbors or friends who have birds.
  • Never share: wood pallets or cardboard egg cartons. These cannot be cleaned and disinfected adequately.
  • If your neighbor has wild bird feeders, place your poultry as far away as possible.

Know bird disease warning signs:

Watch for any of the following signs and symptoms among your birds. Early detection of signs of disease is important to preventing its spread.

  • Sudden death
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased or complete loss of egg production; soft-shelled, misshapen eggs
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Swelling of tissues around eyes and in neck
  • Purple discoloration of wattles, combs, and legs
  • Depression, muscular tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, incoordination, complete paralysis

To report sick backyard birds (toll free): 877-968-2473