NDSU Extension offers guidance on handling HPAI-suspected wild birds this hunting season

North Dakota State University Extension
Highly pathogenic avian influenza has been detected in wild birds throughout all U.S. migratory flyways.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed multiple cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in North Dakota in wild birds, backyard poultry and commercial poultry flocks. All positive cases in domestic flocks this fall have been attributed to interactions with wild birds.

With wild birds testing positive for HPAI, hunters, homeowners and landowners should be aware of what steps to take if they see sick or deceased wild birds, advises North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension specialists.

“The primary carriers of avian influenza A are waterfowl, gulls, terns and shorebirds,” says Dr. Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. “H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in wild birds throughout all U.S. migratory flyways. Wild birds can be infected without showing symptoms of the infection.”

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently believes that the public health risk from the current HPAI outbreak is low,” says Dr. Stokka. “People should not handle dead wild birds and also should avoid transporting sick or dead birds.”

“If you hunt and have poultry do not wear hunting clothes in with your poultry,” says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist. “Infected birds shed bird flu viruses in their saliva, mucous and feces.”

“Hunters of wild birds are more likely to have increased exposure to the virus which may increase risk of infection,” says Mary Keena, NDSU Extension livestock environmental management specialist. “Hunters should dress game birds in the field when possible and practice good biosecurity to prevent any potential disease spread.

“Dogs are not at high risk to contract the virus,” says Dr. Stokka. “Dog owners should be aware that due to HPAI, there have been numerous cases of mortality in eagles, hawks and owls that have occurred as a result of scavenging on dead bird carcasses.”

Avian influenza surveillance and testing in wild birds is being done by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish.

Wild sick and dead birds should be reported at https://gf.nd.gov/wildlife/diseases/mortality-report. Wild bird avian influenza questions can be directed to 701-204-2161.

According to the CDC, if you must handle wild birds or sick or dead poultry, minimize direct contact by wearing gloves and washing your hands with soap and water after touching birds,” says Dr. Stokka. “If available, wear respiratory protection such as a medical facemask. Change your clothing before contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds after handling wild birds, and discard the gloves and facemask, disinfect footwear, and then wash your hands with soap and water.”

The North Dakota Department of Game and Fish suggests the following steps be taken to reduce risk of infection:

  • Do not handle game that is found dead or appears to be sick.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game, and avoid contamination of your eyes, mouth, nose, or any open cuts or sores with blood or other fluids from game that you are cleaning.
  • Wash hands, cleaning utensils and other surfaces with soap and hot water immediately after cleaning game.

“There is no evidence that anyone has contracted the virus from eating a fully cooked bird, either domestic or wild,” says Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor of health, nutrition and exercise sciences. “It is always a safe practice to fully cook wild game to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of whether there is a threat of HPAI.”

More information about wild birds can be found at: