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Backyard Chickens and Bird Flu

Backyard Chickens and Bird Flu How to Spot It and Why It Matters Blog Cover

In recent days, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had identified instances of deadly bird flu in U.S. flocks, putting the poultry industry on high alert.

At the same time, an outbreak was also confirmed in a backyard flock of birds in Fauquier County, Va.

In December of 2014, the bird flu (also known as Avian Influenza or HPAI H5) had spread to the U.S. for the first time since 2004.

Since that December, more than 40 million turkeys and chickens have been killed due to the virus.

This is a worrying time for many backyard chicken keepers, with many people unsure how to best care for their chickens during this time.

We have compiled all of the latest information on bird flu to ensure you have everything you need to keep your chickens safe during this endemic.

Bird Flu aka Avian Influenza, What Is It?

Bird FluBird flu, also known as Avian Influenza or HPAI H5, is a viral disease that affects wild birds, captive wild birds, and domestic poultry.

This includes backyard chickens.

There are two forms of avian influenza: low pathogenicity (LPAI) and high pathogenicity (HPAI).

The most common, low pathogenicity avian influenza is mostly harmless, and infected chickens react with general flu/cold-like symptoms.

Highly pathogenicity avian influenza is highly contagious and kills approximately 90% of all chickens that catch the disease.

In December 2014, bird flu, primarily the H5N2 subtype, was detected in the U.S., and since then, it has resulted in the death of nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys.

Bird Flu Statistics
Source USDA

bird flu

Bird Flu And How It Spreads

This outbreak in the U.S. was likely caused by migrating waterfowl droppings. However, bird flu can spread through many other forms. North Carolina State University writes:

The AI virus is most often transmitted from one infected flock to another flock by infected birds, people or equipment.

The virus most often spreads from flock to flock.

This happens when infected birds are moved to a new location and mixed with healthy birds, i.e., chicken auctions.

The healthy birds then infect other healthy birds, spreading like dominoes.

The other way bird flu is most commonly spread is through clothing and shoes. Bird flu can live in manure for up to 100 days.

So any clothes with contaminated muck on them can spread to healthy flocks weeks/months after.

Since U.S. poultry records began, HPAI has been identified in the U.S. four times: 1924, 1983, 2004, and 2015.

Each time it has been quarantined and eventually removed, there is no reason we won’t successfully eradicate it again.

The good news is no human illness has resulted from avian influenza in America, but what does it mean for your backyard chickens?

bird flu

Can Bird Flu Affect Your Backyard Chickens?

Yes, bird flu can affect your backyard chickens, which would likely result in them dying.

Your backyard chickens are genetically different from the large commercial farms wiped out due to bird flu.

Since the outbreak in December, more than 160 instances of the virus have been identified across 15 states in the U.S.

Of these 160 cases, around 16 of these have been backyard chicken flocks.

Bird Flu Affect Outbreak
Map of 2015 Bird Flu Outbreak: Source USDA

Around 10% of infected chickens have been backyard flocks, whereas 90% have been commercial operations.

If anyone of your backyard chickens tests positive for highly pathogenicity avian influenza, then your entire flock will need to be humanely euthanized.

This is to prevent the disease from spreading to any more flocks. During the outbreak in 2014-15, nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys have been euthanized due to bird flu.

bird flu

Bird Flu Symptoms

One of the difficulties with bird flu is that healthy chickens can be infected and show no initial signs of carrying the disease.

This means that chickens’ appearing healthy’ can spread the virus, and you wouldn’t be able to identify the healthy or infected chickens visually.

However, once a chicken catches pathogenicity avian influenza highly, they will likely be dead within hours.

Mike, The Chicken Vet writes:

You can check your chickens in the morning and they appear fine, then come back at lunch and some of your chickens have died.

Then by late afternoon the majority of your chickens are dead- it’s that fast and that severe.

The only way to confirm if your chickens have Avian Influenza is a laboratory test- most states are currently offering this for free (head over to USDA to find your local testing lab).
H5N1 Positive
With that being said, some of the most common symptoms include:

  • A general decrease in roaming and activity
  • The blueness of the head area
  • Reduction in their appetite
  • Wet eyes
  • Excessive flock huddling and ruffled feathers
  • Fluid in the comb and wattles
  • Decrease in egg production
  • Coughing
  • Legs bleeding underneath the skin
  • Sudden death

If you notice any of these symptoms with your chickens, make sure to quarantine them immediately properly.

This will help prevent the disease from spreading to any of your other chickens.

Keep reading for a list of preventative measures you can take to reduce the chances of your girls catching bird flu.

How to Stop Your Chickens Getting Bird Flu

While it isn’t possible to 100% prevent your chickens from catching bird flu, there are several preventative measures you can take right now to help protect your girls.

1) Restrict Wild Birds

The most effective measure you can take is to stop wild birds from contacting your chickens.

This means you shouldn’t feed any wild birds or do anything else to encourage them to ‘stop by.

If you feel you have to feed wild birds, do so as far as possible away from your chickens and make sure to change your clothes and wash your hands after feeding them.

Also, as previously mentioned, bird flu spreads through migrating waterfowl droppings.

So, you could add a roof to your chickens’ pen to stop any droppings from falling into their pen.

Don’t Feed Wild Birds
Stop Feeding Wild Birds

I haven’t added a roof to my pen because the chance of droppings falling into a chicken pen is minimal!

2) Run a Tidy Ship

To prevent your chickens from getting bird flu, you need to make sure you are keeping a clean chicken coop. To do this, you need to:

  • Keep your feeders and waterers clean, and don’t give wild birds access to these.
  • Thoroughly clean any piece of equipment you use with your chickens (shovels, rakes, etc.)- you can use Virkon S.
  • Clean up any feed spillages so you don’t attract wild birds.
  • Each week clean their coop out thoroughly and disinfect it- again. You can use Virkon S for this.
  • Have dedicated clothing and footwear which you use when handling your chickens. Make sure not to wear this clothing and footwear anywhere else but around your chickens (this mainly includes not wearing it around other chicken flocks.

3) Don’t Share Equipment With Other Flocks

While bird flu is rife, make sure not to share or reuse any equipment from your neighboring chicken flock.

This includes rakes, shovels, chicken troughs, or any other piece of poultry equipment.

This might seem excessive, but this also includes reusing any egg cartons from your neighbors or other friends who keep chickens.

4) Limit Visits and Visitors

As an extra precautionary measure, during this time, I’m limiting the number of poultry events I attend, and I’m not taking any of my chickens to poultry events.

I’m also limiting the number of other chicken flocks I visit.

If I visit other flocks or poultry events, I thoroughly wash my shoes and clothes afterward to avoid spreading the disease.

Also, I have limited the number of people I let visit my chicken flock to prevent anyone from outside bringing the disease to my girls.

5) Don’t Introduce Any New Chickens To Your Flock

As previously mentioned, during the early stages of the disease, you can’t visually check if a chicken is infected.

For this reason, I’m not purchasing or introducing any other chickens into my flock.

Yes, you could quarantine new chickens for 30 days to ensure they don’t have the virus, but I’m not willing to risk my existing flocks’ health during this time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list avoiding contact with other poultry as “one of the best ways to prevent this disease.”

If you know the risks and still want to add new chickens to your existing flock, make sure to purchase your chickens from a reputable dealer who takes hygiene and cleanliness seriously.

What If My Chickens Already Caught Bird Flu?

If you think your chicken has already caught bird flu, make sure you contact the United States Department of Agriculture immediately.

As a responsible backyard chicken keeper, it’s your duty to report it immediately and get professional help.

If you don’t report it, your chickens will only suffer an excruciating death- they should be humanely euthanized.

Also, there could be legal repercussions if you don’t report any instances of bird flu.

Bird Flu The Basic Facts

We have gathered some of our subscribers’ most commonly asked questions about bird flu for quick reference.

Q: What happens if I eat an egg which a chicken laid with Bird Flu?
Chickens infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza don’t usually lay eggs.

However, if you did eat an egg laid by a chicken with bird flu, the World Health Organization reports, “Proper cooking inactivates the virus present inside the eggs.”
Make Sure To Cook Egg Properly
Q: Can I eat a chicken contaminated with Bird Flu?
If you cooked the infected chicken, so its temperature rises above 70°Celsius and make sure no meat is raw or red, it should be safe to eat.

However, I wouldn’t eat a contaminated chicken.

Q: Are humans at risk of catching Bird Flu?
In the U.S., no human illness has occurred due to bird flu. In other countries, people have died from it.

The risk to the general public is shallow, and there is certainly nothing to worry about for the time being.

As the University of Minnesota reports, contaminated chickens don’t reach the consumer market, so you shouldn’t be at risk of catching bird flu from chickens bought from Walmart.

There remains a concern that the bird flu could eventually mutate to a point where it could be passed from person to person, rather than just from bird to person.

As you can see, it’s essential to do your part and report any instances of bird flu and remove dead birds quickly from your flock.

Q: Should I Start My First Flock Now?
Several people emailed me, letting me know they won’t be getting chickens until the bird flu scare is over.

I think this is an overly cautious step, and if you want to get chickens and raise them, you should!

Just make sure to purchase your pullets from a reputable dealer and follow the safety steps outlined above, and you should be fine.

I would say, though, I won’t be introducing any new chickens into my existing flock for the foreseeable future to prevent the potential spread of the disease.

Bird Flu And Our Final Thoughts

At this moment, the virus appears to be still spreading. It’s important to remember that only a small amount of backyard chicken keepers have been affected so far.

While scientists think they’ve found a cure for bird flu. It still hasn’t passed clinical trials yet.

Until then, make sure to visit USDA for regular updates and follow the biosecurity steps above to keep both your flock and yourself safe.

If you are a fairgoer, and love to exhibit your birds, before you reintroduce the chickens you’ve taken off your property, make sure to isolate them for at least 30 days.

This is to ensure they have remained healthy and so no signs of illness.

Let us know in the comments below if you are concerned about bird flu?

READ NEXT: 4 Diseases Humans Get from Backyard Chickens: Zoonotic Diseases

Backyard Chickens and Bird Flu

38 thoughts on “Backyard Chickens and Bird Flu

    1. Hi Adetan,
      If you concerned about your chickens, please contact the USDA. They will test your chickens to see if they have bird flu or not.
      I really hope they are ok!

        1. Hi J,
          You would need to get them tested at a laboratory to check for bird flu. This isn’t something you can check on your own.

      1. Hello, I live outside the US, I noticed my rooster had a swollen eye and took him to a vet, they said he had bird flu, is there any way to avoid the death of my Rooster?

    2. I also keep backyard chickens and I’m terrified because although they haven’t shown any symptoms and I doubt they will get bird flu I love them so much that honestly I would rather get bird flu myself than see them infected 🙁
      We only just recovered from losing three birds in less than two years to mareks, I don’t think I can take bird flu.

    1. It’s hard to say without seeing them. Green poop normally means they are dehydrated. I would make sure they have plenty of water and put some electrolytes in the water. Also make sure they are eating plenty…
      Have you noticed any discharge from their eyes or beak, or sudden weight loss?

  1. I have a road island red chicken only about a year and a half old.she was running around in our backyard and when I got home she was just sitting on grass would not hardly walk next morning she was dead.just a sudden sickness. What would this be??

    1. Hi Mettle,
      I’m sorry to hear about your loss.
      It’s hard to say without knowing her- does she show any signs of being attacked?

  2. We had three rhode island hens, 1 year old. One was pecked to death by the others some months back. Three days ago another hen was found dead, no warning signs. Today the remaining little hen also is dead! Clean water, fresh food, no contacts with other birds, no signs of struggle. Any idea of why? Also, should we wait a period of time before getting new hens?

    1. Hi Dory,
      I’m sorry to hear about your loss.
      It does sound very suspicious- without seeing them it’s hard to say. However, I would use the link above to speak with the USDA and inquire about bird flu in your area (just to be on the safe side 🙂 )

  3. We think our chickens have bird flu. 2 of them were standing up sleeping and a weird substance was coming from their mouth and they sound congested. we also think our rooster has it to . He has not crowed once today and barely gets up and did not eat or drink.
    Also the 2 chickens did not lay any eggs today nor did they get up . We went to try vet but it wasn’t an all creature vet and they didn’t know much but they gave us some antibiotics. Tomorrow we will go to all creature vet to see what’s going on ? Do you have any idea what it could be??

    1. Hi Tori,
      I’m sorry to hear this. You’re doing the right thing though- get to a vet ASAP and they will be able to advise you and notify USDA if needed.
      If you send me an email with some photos I will do my best to help,

  4. My chicken is not eating it also sneeze some times and she has very hot feathers looks like bird flue or not please reply before too late

    1. Hi Shehryar,
      If you suspect it is bird flu you need to get in touch with your local veterinarian urgently and they will be able to advise you further.
      I have my fingers crossed for you,

  5. All my chickens are sick and 4 have died, i’m so scared. Live in Zimbabwe and no one can help.

      1. if it were me with no help around, I would right away give 1 tablespoon of colloidal silver per bird , to help fight off any virus germ or bacteria I use it to cure most problems with my animals & family , since nothing can live in the presents of silver & it cant hurt them . but also you can try giving your affected birds some Korean kim chi its a kind fermented cabbage like a sauerkraut but also a home made fermented sauerkraut can be just as good. & can help to kill off viruses, is what I have read , but my faith is in the colloidal silver..!!!!!

  6. very interesting and informative article, if it turns out that pet chickens do have bird flu is there a treatment or will they have to be put to sleep?

    1. Hi Vicky,
      If it turns out your chickens have bird flu they should be put down immediately to prevent it spreading.
      Please see the article for guidance on who to contact/report this to.

  7. My chicken is fluing some white liquid and green poop, and lose her feathers just in her private place, what can be?

    1. Hi Cecilia,
      In general green poop means they are starved and dehydrated.
      I would separate her from the flock so you can keep an eye on her. Make sure to give her electrolytes in her water and mash her food with a small amount of warm water so it’s easier for her to eat and digest.
      If she continues to get worse then you’ll need to contact your vet.

  8. Here in East Europe we are advised ro now keep our chickens inside for the next 3 months to avoid the wild birds and avian flu. How can we make our former free range flock comfy and prevent boredom? Also is an enclosed coop area with chicken wire and a roof sufficient?

    1. Hi EG,
      I’m sorry to hear about this.
      I would recommend reading our winter boredom busters article- many of these ideas can be used inside the coop 🙂

  9. my girls all seem to have poopy butts 1 just recently died.i’m guessing they have the flu.
    should i take 1 to the vet then and see?

      1. Hello i have a rooster and its 2 years old its leghorn, i guess not pure but mix. I brought a hen for him and the next day hen died. After that my rooster suffered from sour throat moreover his breathing pattern is not normal, he is eating, he stool is normal. I gave him ciprofloxin for seven days and he recovered completely. After 5 days again he lost his voice and cant crow. I again started giving him antibiotics. I would like to add that his comb is normal, his stool is normal, he does not stop eating, he ate regularly. There is no nasal discharge not even wet eyes and he is active as well. I have only one rooster and its my pet . It all starter with that hen earlier he was healthy happy. Kindly help me as i am very worried

  10. my Rhode Island Red acted like she was trying to lay an egg. She just sat still when I let her out of the 50 yard pen to the bigger pen. She had yellow and green diarrhea. I thought she was egg bound but didn’t feel an egg. She was panting a bit and it isn’t hot. Any ideas?

  11. Hello
    I’m planning on getting a very small flock of birds but reading about all the diseases has me worried as they will be around my children
    The birds will all be coming from the same hatchery (no mixing)
    Is there any advice you can give for someone just starting out 🙂

  12. Hi;
    I am very new to owning chickens or birds at all. I recently purchased 3 chicks and their health seemed to be perfect but one of them has been sneezing for a day or two now. I assumed it was because of dust or pollen but now instead of a normal looking bird stool, the sneezing chick has excreted an almost completely white liquid substance. I am unsure if this is just a harmless excess of urates or if I should be concerned for my birds’ health. What do you think?

    1. Sounds like it is worth checking up on Rick. Can you collect the stool and take it to your local vet?

  13. Great Article.. Completely agree with the flow…Thanks for sharing. I am sure other too would benefit from this !!!

  14. It has been three days that my chick is sick. She does not eat just drinks water, has diarrhea with green white poop. Today I noticed discoloration of her comb with some red dots on it. I am afraid of bird flue. Does she need a vet?

  15. Hi if the flock is infected with the low pathogenicity form of bird flu, will they eventually die from it? or do they normally recover? It was stated above that the low pathogenicity form is harmless but I wasn’t sure what was meant by that.

    1. Poultry infected with LPAI viruses may show no signs of disease or only exhibit mild illness (such as ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production) which may not be detected. Infection of poultry with HPAI viruses can cause severe disease with high mortality. Both HPAI and LPAI viruses can spread rapidly through poultry flocks. HPAI virus infection can cause disease that affects multiple internal organs with mortality up to 90% to100% in chickens, often within 48 hours. – CDC.GOV
      LPAI is a virus and can be recovered from

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