SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is recommending residents stop using bird feeders and baths until the end of May due to an influenza strain that is impacting wild and domestic birds.

The strain is called the EA H5N1 — which is a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Throughout the Midwest, infections from the strain are up, especially in waterfowl.

Currently, there are no reported cases of HPAI for the songbirds in Illinois. Yet, some people are uncertain about what the recommendation means for their enjoyment of certain species.

“This was not intended to be for hummingbird feeders or those oriole feeders,” said Dr. Chris Jacques, IDNR Program Manager of Wildlife Disease and Invasive Species. “The idea being that many of the species that we know are most affected and infected by HPAI are water birds and some of the raptor species.”

Seasonal migration can affect calorie consumption. Changes in the weather can also play a factor as birds zero in on familiar places to feast.

“In times of extreme weather or whether it’s rain, snow, heat, drought, they know where the consistent feeders are so they will come to those feeders,” said Kathi Butts of Wild Birds Unlimited in St. Charles, Missouri. Her company is monitoring the Illinois recommendation.

“If you have bird feeders close to poultry, domestic poultry like chickens and ducks, then you might want to take them down,” she said. “But if you’re just feeding in the backyard, there’s absolutely no reason to take those down.” 

Dr. Jacques asks those to use precaution but not to panic.

“Anyone who has hummingbird feeders or feed orioles can continue with those activities but consider seed feeders to suspend their operations right now,” he said.

Nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys have been slaughtered in 26 states to limit the spread of bird flu during this year’s outbreak. Officials order entire flocks to be killed when the virus is found on farms.

Avian influenza has also been found in 637 wild birds, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bird flu can spread among wild birds, specifically those who congregate, like vultures or eagles at a kill site. To keep birds – and yourself – safe, you may want to reconsider doing things that encourage the animals to gather.

During spring, wild birds will have ample food sources while bird feeders are removed, the IDNR said.

The agency is recommending the following.

  • Clean and rinse bird feeders and baths with a diluted bleach solution (nine parts water to one part bleach) and put away or clean weekly if they can’t be moved away from birds.
  • Remove any bird seed at the base of bird feeders to discourage large gatherings of birds or other wildlife.
  • Avoid feeding wild birds in close proximity to domestic flocks.

If five or more deceased wild birds are observed in one location, an IDNR district wildlife biologist should be contacted. So far, the strain has not been detected in any songbird species.