are hummingbirds affected by bird flu

Many people are concerned about the 2022-2023 outbreak of avian influenza, or bird flu, that is affecting domestic poultry, waterfowl, raptors, and some shorebirds in the U.S. and Canada. Because the current strain (H5N1) causes heavy losses to poultry, it is referred to as highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. Note that transmission of avian influenza from birds to humans is very rare. To date, one person in the U.S. has tested positive for avian influenza and developed mild symptoms, in Colorado in April 2022.

This particular strain of avian influenza virus affects a wide variety of wild birds, including raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks, owls, crows, vultures, and waterfowl such as Canada Geese and Mallards (see details below). The virus is shed in the saliva, mucus, and feces of infected birds and is transmitted to other birds via ingestion or inhalation. There have been reports of mammals, such as red foxes, skunks, bobcats, fishers, and bears, also infected with avian influenza, likely from eating infected birds.

Because of widespread mortalities in some types of wild birds, there has been confusion about whether people should take down their feeders to stop the spread of this disease among wild birds. In April 2022 and March 2023, we checked in with Dr. Julianna Lenoch, who directs the USDA APHIS National Wildlife Disease Program, and we’ve compiled the following summaries of key points regarding HPAI, especially among songbirds and other feeder visitors.

If you keep nest boxes:

Avian influenza is only rarely transmitted to humans, according to the USDA. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the general public health risk from avian flu to be low. Nevertheless, our NestWatch project always advises good hygiene and highly recommends that people wear disposable gloves and/or wash their hands thoroughly after checking nest boxes. Most birds that use nest boxes are songbirds, which are at low risk for contracting or transmitting avian influenza. If you monitor waterfowl or raptor nests (e.g., Wood Duck, Common Merganser, Canada Goose, American Kestrel, Barred Owl), we suggest you wear gloves, change or wash gloves and disinfect equipment between nest boxes, wear a mask when cleaning out nest boxes, and change clothes and footwear before visiting any domestic poultry.

What to do if you find a sick or dead bird:

Avoid handling sick or dead birds. Alternatively, give your state’s wildlife health agency a call; they can ascertain the cause of death and forward the bird to the relevant laboratory for examination. Furthermore, keep pets away from dead or sick wild birds, including pet birds.

  • Avoid contact with birds that appear sick or have died.
  • Avoid contact with surfaces that have bird feces.
  • If you must touch sick or dead birds:
  • Wear gloves and a face mask.
  • Place dead birds in a double-bagged garbage bag.
  • Throw away your gloves and facemask after use.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and warm water.

Bird flu is not a risk to food safety. It is safe to consume poultry and eggs that have been handled carefully and cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F.

Get in touch with your healthcare provider if handling sick or dead birds makes you feel unwell.

If you are a wildlife rehabilitator:

When accepting sick birds, wildlife rehabilitators should take care to prevent unintentionally exposing the other patients to HPAI. Here’s further guidance for rehabbers, from USDA APHIS. For additional information, rehabbers in New York State are also urged to get in touch with the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab.


Does avian bird flu affect hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds are thought to be at lower risk than other birds because their habits and sources of food and water are so different. Nevertheless, I haven’t seen any evidence that hummingbirds are immune to bird flu.

Which bird is most affected by bird flu?

Waterfowl, such as swans, ducks, and geese, are the type of birds that are most likely to be infected with avian influenza. Although wild backyard birds and pigeons are unlikely to be infected with avian influenza, it is always best to minimize contact with fecal material.

Are hummingbird feeders OK?

Q: Are there any downsides to supplying a hummingbird feeder to the birds in my yard? A: No. Your hummingbird feeder will be a supplemental source of nectar for your local hummingbirds, and can help them through times when there aren’t as many blooming flowers available nearby.

Can hummingbirds get sick from feeders?

Take the feeder apart and wash it thoroughly with dish soap or run it through the dishwasher if it is dishwasher safe. Use a small bottle brush to clean each feeder port. There should never be any black mold or other “gunk” in the ports. Hummingbirds can get sick or die from drinking out of dirty feeders.