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Audubon California says take down bird feeders to help stop avian flu

Chicken farm.jpg
Thomas Fudge
/
KPBS
Chicken farms like Hilliker's Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside, Calif. are at risk of losing all their birds, as a result of the avian flu. Oct. 31, 2022

California's Audubon Society, called Audubon California, last week asked homeowners to take action in response to the new strain of bird flu.

“The avian flu is spreading throughout California. We’re recommending that people take down their bird feeders or don’t fill them right now. And to empty the bird baths where birds may come to drink or to bathe,” said Mike Lynes, policy director for Audubon California. "And that’s just to minimize birds congregating in peoples’ yards and bringing them closer together which can spread the disease.”

The deadly avian flu has been moving west across the country for the past several months. Wild birds have tested positive in San Diego County.

The danger of this bird flu depends on what kind of bird is infected. Small songbirds are not as likely to die from it. But Lynes said waterfowl, like ducks and geese, and raptors, like eagles and hawks, face a grave danger. When the avian flu takes hold in a flock of domestic birds, it can be devastating.

“When it gets into domesticated chicken flocks, it can wipe them out with a 100% degree of mortality,” Lynes said.

The avian flu has already wiped out a chicken farm in Fresno County.

Frank.jpg
Thomas Fudge
/
KPBS
Frank Hilliker, shown here at his Lakeside chicken farm, has been watching the avian flu move west across the country until it reached California. Oct. 31, 2022.

Some chicken farms in San Diego’s East County have tens of thousands of birds. Hilliker's Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside has barns that house 30,000 chickens.

“If we come down with avian influenza on the farm, all birds must be euthanized and we have to stay clean until our environment tests negative for avian influenza,” said Frank Hilliker, CEO of Hilliker Ranch Fresh Eggs.

He said that he’s been watching the avian flu since it appeared in the eastern U.S. and has been marching west. Hilliker said his farm has tried to take precautions.

“We’re on high alert right now and that means we do our enhanced biosecurity,” Hilliker said. “Which means we limit access to the farm for visitors and trucks. And we just have a lot of disinfection stages that you go through.”

But he said that won’t stop an infected wild bird from dropping feces on his farm that gets tracked into a barn by an employee.

Mike Lynes, with Audubon California, says the destruction of wetlands in California has made the problem worse.

“We’ve forced these birds into flocks in smaller and smaller habitat areas, which then results in more disease spreading more rapidly,” Lynes said.

Frank Hilliker said anyone who finds a dead bird should report it to the state or county agricultural department, so they can test the bodies for avian flu.

Corrected: November 1, 2022 at 11:25 AM PDT
Editor's note: A previous version of this story misidentified Audubon California as California Audubon Society. KPBS regrets the error.
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