The organization said although waterfowl, such as ducks, geese and gulls, and raptors including eagles, hawks and owls are at the highest risk of avian influenza, or bird flu, it can infect all birds.
It is considered highly contagious and is spread through infected birds through feces and respiratory secretions. The BC SPCA said the virus is also resilient and can survive in the environment for several months.
On Wednesday, officials said they have detected avian flu in two more B.C. small poultry flocks.
The B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Food said the H5N1 avian influenza virus was most recently confirmed among small poultry flocks in Richmond and Kelowna.
The infected premises have been placed under quarantine by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the ministry said producers within a 12-kilometre radius have been informed.
The poultry are believed to have contracted the virus through contact with infected migrating wild birds.
The virus sweeping across North America was first found in B.C. at a commercial poultry producer in the North Okanagan last month. It has since been detected in two other small poultry flocks in Kelowna and the Kootenays.
“Bird feeders can be sites for disease spread because they encourage unnatural congregations of birds and attract other wildlife,” Dr. Andrea Wallace, manager of wild animal welfare for the BC SPCA, said in a release.
“Fallen seed is also an especially dangerous source of disease – when birds feed from the ground, they are also exposed to droppings that accumulate below a feeder.” She says the presence of bird feeders and baths can also increase the risk of transmitting the virus between nearby animals such as backyard chickens or turkeys.
“On rare occasions, this virus can also cause disease in humans who have been in close contact with infected birds, or heavily contaminated areas,” Wallace added. “We need to do everything we can to stop H5N1 in its tracks.”
Wallace says that, in addition to removing bird feeders and emptying birdbaths, the BC SPCA is asking the public to monitor their outdoor surroundings for any signs of sick birds. “Birds may appear lethargic, unusually “fluffed up,” have nasal discharge, or have excessively watery eyes or swelling of the head and eyelids,” she said.
The public is asked to report sightings of sick or dead wild birds to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) at 1-800-567-2033. If the report is assessed to require further investigation, a biologist may retrieve the carcass for further testing. “Please do not bring deceased birds to a wildlife rehabilitation centre or veterinary clinic as they will not be able to test for the disease,” Wallace added.
The BC SPCA said it is not necessary to remove hummingbird feeders at this time but it is important to regularly change the nectar and clean them to prevent deadly fungal outbreaks. However, if the public sees sick birds at the feeder they should remove it immediately.