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Avian Influenza – What is the risk to my parrots?

by Patti Christie, CVT

Red on the Prowl Recently, the news in my state (Minnesota) has been filled with daily reports of one poultry farm after another falling victim to avian influenza. Hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens have died or had to be destroyed in an effort to prevent further spread of this disease.

As a parrot owner who finds there is great benefit in allowing my birds some time outdoors (although the opportunities in MN pale by comparison to CO!), I was concerned what the risk of exposure to avian influenza might be for my birds. I contacted Julia Ponder, DVM (Executive Director of The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota) who is one of the officials fielding calls and dealing with this outbreak. She provided some excellent and up to date information that is relevant for any companion bird caregiver. Dr. Ponder did indicate that there is still much that is not known about avian influenza. Here is what they do know:

  • Most likely source of virus is waterfowl feces
  • Parrots are not considered very susceptible to this strain. It is a waterfowl/poultry virus. That said – an overwhelming exposure of any bird to the virus could be a risk. Don’t allow your parrot access to water that contains waterfowl poop.
  • Good biosecurity is good practice – don’t track waterfowl feces into your bird area; don’t handle dead wild birds and then your own birds(raptors are known to be susceptible); wear clean clothing, etc.
  • Ultra safe? I would keep my bird inside or at least far from parks/waterfowl areas until this passes. Once the temperatures heat up a bit, this will be behind us for the summer.

With Minnesota being the land of 10,000 lakes, it is hard to find an area that does not have waterfowl hanging around! I will be letting my birds outside during the middle of the day when possible in a safe, enclosed, clean area for short periods of time until this passes. We’ve all gone SO long without sunshine and fresh air that it seems almost cruel to deny them a bit of natural Vitamin D exposure and a chance to stretch their wings a bit! I am willing to take the risk as I feel the benefits outweigh the risks with my set up here. (I’ll be hanging out in the flight with them soaking up some rays too! I sure miss the CO sunshine.)

As the mosquito season starts to “heat up,” I also asked for an update on West Nile Virus (WNV) risk here in MN. Dr. Ponder indicated that WNV is endemic in Minnesota. They are not seeing increases or decreases in the number of cases reported. Dr. Ponder is not aware of anyone vaccinating psittacines for WNV and they do not believe that parrots are very susceptible to WNV, although there has been WNV diagnosed in a few psittacines (she did not say if that was in MN or elsewhere). Dr. Ponder agreed that the benefits of fresh air and sunshine for our parrots outweighs the risk of WNV however we should avoid having our birds out at times when mosquitoes are most active – dawn and dusk. In CO, check with Greenwood Wildlife Center (Longmont) or the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program (Fort Collins) to get the demographic information for your area.

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