Keeping your pet birds safe this winter by Rob Bullock.
Once again Bird Flu has reared its ugly head this winter with a backyard flock of poultry near Settle recently found to be contaminated with the H5N8 strain of the disease. According to DEFRA the risk to the public is very low but pet bird owners and people with smallholdings do need to take precautions to keep their birds safe.
Official guidelines require that bird owners, where possible, move their birds inside into a suitable building such as a shed, outbuilding, garage or barn. If you don’t have any of these, makeshift accommodation will suffice such as lean-to plastic greenhouses or polytunnel.
If your birds can get outside from their new homes the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asks that their pecking patch is covered with netting to stop the risk of contact with wild birds.
It is advised that ducks and geese are kept separate from chickens and turkeys and that all birds are checked regularly to see if they are in good health.
Owners worried about their birds getting bored are advised to keep the environment of their animals interesting to reduce the risk of fights, feather pecking or self-plucking. Regularly add fresh bedding and straw bales for them to explore and perches for them to jump up to. Natural toys such as cabbages and corn cob are recommended to keep birds calm along with scattered feed or grain on the floor. Adding grit to litter will encourage birds to fulfil their natural urge to scratch and natural light is a must as birds, like people, don’t like being kept in the dark!
Nutritional supplements added to fresh drinking water should be considered to keep birds calm too and these can be obtained from good pet stores and veterinary practices.
Keeping birds that naturally live outside indoors can lead to the risk of skin complaints and red mites and your local vet should be consulted if you spot the tell-tale signs of infestation.
Above all, good pet housekeeping will ensure your birds remain safe and sound during any temporary restrictions or safeguards. Keeping bird houses clean and dirt free, water bowls regularly cleaned and changed is vital as is keeping contact with wild birds to an absolute minimum.
Members of the public are also asked to keep their eyes peeled for dead or injured wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds such as gulls or birds of prey. Should you spot any of these, report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.