Avian Influenza

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was detected in domestic poultry, wild birds and wild foxes in Minnesota during the 2022 winter/spring outbreak.

Avian influenza, sometimes called bird flu, is caused by viruses that can infect poultry and wild birds, especially waterfowl.

The DNR is coordinating with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant and Animal Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) to conduct surveillance for HPAI in wild birds. After a marked decline in reports of sick or dead wild birds in late May 2022, DNR has shifted its testing priorities to assisting USDA APHIS with sampling live waterfowl through summer banding programs and fall hunting.

Sampling a wild bird for avaian influenza
  • The DNR is collaborating with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to share information regarding potential wild bird and poultry HPAI infections in Minnesota.
  • DNR is receiving and addressing sick and dead wild bird reports that are consistent with possible HPAI infections. Cases where five or more dead wild birds of any kind found in one location during the same timeframe should be reported to local DNR wildlife staff or the DNR information center at 888-646-6367.
  • DNR will submit birds suspected of potentially carrying HPAI to the National Wildlife Health Center or the Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for testing.
  • Check back for updates on our HPAI response.
Signs and symptoms of HPAI

Individual birds may exhibit the following signs of illness:

  • Inability to fly
  • Drooping head
  • Swimming in circles
  • Trouble standing upright
  • Tremors
  • Loss of coordination

Other signs of HPAI include multiple dead birds in the same location and timeframe.

Resources
Background

Poultry that AI can infect include chickens, turkeys, captive pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, domestic geese and guinea fowl. Wild birds also are susceptible.

AI viruses are classified by their ability to produce symptoms in domestic chickens. This is called pathogenicity, which can be low or high.

Many types of low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses (LPAI) are found in waterfowl but they do not get sick from it; however, they can pass the virus along to domestic fowl and wild birds. Wild birds are typically not affected by LPAI strains.

LPAI viruses can infect domestic poultry but usually do not have severe effects. Birds affected may show little or no signs of illness.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) strains can cause sickness and death in some wild birds. In domestic and backyard poultry, HPAI strains can kill entire flocks.

Since late 2021, HPAI has been detected in numerous wild birds, domestic poultry and backyard flocks in the Atlantic, Mississippi and Pacific flyways of the United States.

In early May, Minnesota DNR received confirmation from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory of a HPAI-positive fox from Anoka County. This was one of the first recorded cases of HPAI detection in a wild mammal in the United States.

Towards the end of May, Minnesota DNR, amongst other partners, noticed a marked decline in reporting of sick or dead wild birds. Avian influenza viruses tend to degrade in warm, dry conditions associated with summer months and this trend is consistent with past outbreaks.

Questions & answers

I’ve found a sick bird, what should I do?

Avoid handling the animal if possible. You can allow nature to take its course. While it is unfortunate, there are not any available treatments for avian influenza. Raptors, in particular, decline quickly after contracting this illness.

Do not attempt to care for the animal yourself. While the risk of contracting this strain is low for people, there still is a risk. Wildlife rehabilitators are trained on how to limit contact and preserve a wild animal's natural instincts while giving care. Trained rehabilitators are able to assess the animal's condition and take necessary steps to either keep and care for the animal or humanely euthanize it if necessary.

You can contact local wildlife rehabilitators. Please note that some centers may no longer accept some species to protect current patients from avian influenza.

What can I do with dead birds I suspect died of avian influenza?

If you've found multiple dead birds (five or more of any species) in one place at one time, report the finding to the Minnesota DNR at 888-646-6367. DNR biologists may be interested in recording the possible case to track the virus.

If the biologists do not need the birds for sampling and you need to move them, wear disposable gloves, double bag the birds and place them in the trash. This will ensure other animals are unable to get to the carcasses and potentially become infected themselves.

Should I take down my bird feeders?

National data on avian influenza in wild birds does not suggest songbirds (passerines) play a significant role in avian influenza outbreaks. If you wish to take your feeders down as a precaution, you are encouraged to do so. Bird feeders only provide a supplemental source of food to birds, especially during the spring and summer.

Whether you choose to take your feeders down or leave them up, we do encourage you to clean your bird feeders regularly as this helps protect birds against other infections such as salmonella.

Review our best practices for cleaning bird feeders. Individuals who own chickens or other domestic fowl may need to take additional precautions. See the Minnesota Board of Animal Health’s recommendations for biosecurity.

Will my dog or cat be at risk of contracting avian influenza since a fox got it?

There is currently limited information about the susceptibility of domestic dogs and cats to the Eurasian HPAI H5 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza currently impacting the U.S. and Canada. No cases of this virus in dogs or cats have been identified.

Will the DNR be testing other wild animals to see if they can contract avian influenza?

No. The DNR will not be broadly testing other wild animals to detect avian influenza. While the possibility of transmission is there, the animals most severely affected by this disease include wild waterfowl, raptors and domestic poultry based on our current data.

Labs available have limited space and time to dedicate to testing animals unlikely to be spreading HPAI. The DNR, along with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and Minnesota Department of Agriculture, are focusing their testing efforts on the species most important in propagation of this virus.

DNR did add avian influenza to the routine screening process when foxes exhibiting neurological signs are submitted to the Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.