Alert: bird flu in Washington can harm backyard poultry and wild birds

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UPDATE 6/1/2022: Since the last alert on May 24, 2022 (see below) several wild ducks and geese in King County were tested for bird flu. Initial tests show they were infected with bird flu. These birds were found on private property and in public parks in Seattle and Bellevue. 

Do not approach or touch wild birds, particularly if they appear ill or are dead. Do not try to transport wild birds or keep them in your house or yard. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife may be able to pick up the sick or dead birds: Report online at or call 360-902-2200, press 4, and leave a detailed voicemail. 

Ducks with bird flu were found on May 22, 2022 at  

  • Green Lake Park in Seattle  
  • Bellevue Downtown Park 
  • Volunteer Park Seattle 

If you happened to touch or come close to (within six feet) any sick or dead ducks in these locations, call Public Health at 206-296-4774. While the risk to people is very low, notify Public Health and your health care provider if you develop flu-like symptoms in the ten days after your exposure.  

The Situation

A dangerous type of bird flu virus has been found among birds in Washington state, including in King County. This virus has been spreading in birds in the United States since early 2022. The infection is called H5N1 and it easily infects and kills birds.

The first infection of H5N1 in birds in Washington state was announced on May 5. So far, eight counties, including King County, have reported infected backyard poultry.

What is bird flu?

Bird flu infects domestic and wild birds. These birds include chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese, guinea fowl and other birds. This bird flu virus is extremely contagious and frequently kills birds. It spreads rapidly from flock to flock.

The risk for this virus to spread from birds to people is very low. The risk of it spreading from human to human is also very low.

What to look for in birds

When birds get this virus they may have:

  • Discharge from the nose and mouth. The discharge may have spots of blood in it.
  • Other symptoms include ruffled feathers, blue or swollen combs, wattles or legs, a tilted head, lack of coordination, tiredness, and sudden death.

Who to call if you see sick birds

If there are any unusual illnesses or deaths in your flock, call the Washington state Department of Agriculture’s Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056.

If you see a sick or dead wild bird, don’t touch it.  Report it to Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife at 360-902-2200, press 4, and leave a detailed voicemail.

What to do if you have birds

Although the risk to people is very low, it is important to wash your hands before and after caring for your birds. Keep clothing and shoes or boots you use to work with birds outside of your home.

A chicken coop.

What to do to protect your birds

Poultry owners should take these steps to protect your birds and prevent the spread of this virus:

  • Prevent contact between your flocks and wild birds by keeping birds out of ponds or other water on your property.
  • Separate domestic water birds (like ducks and geese) from chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, and peacocks.
  • Keep poultry in outdoor pens, with a roof or overhead netting if possible. Keep other animals out, including rodents, insects, cats, dogs, wild birds and other animals.
  • Do not have visitors to your farm or property as much as possible.
  • Do not lend or share farm tools or equipment.
  • Do not share or sell eggs from backyard flocks. Eating cooked eggs is not a health risk but moving eggs from your farm could spread the virus.
  • Keep poultry at home. Do not take them to fairs or exhibitions until it has been 30 days since the last confirmed detection of bird flu in Washington state.
  • Do not participate in poultry markets. The state agriculture department has requested that live market poultry sales stop for now.
  • Keep up-to-date on bird flu in Washington state. Check the WSDA website often.

For the public

  • The risk of dogs and cats catching bird flu is very low, but you should prevent them from having contact with or eating wild birds.
  • Hunters or other people who may have contact with wild birds should:
    • Wear disposable gloves if touching birds, bird carcasses, or bird feeders.
    • Thoroughly wash hands, surfaces  and equipment (knives, bird feeders, clothes).
    • Not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead. 

More information

For more information on steps to take to protect your birds, visit USDA’s Defend the Flock resources.

For additional information on the current bird flu outbreak in Washington visit the Department of Agriculture’s web page.

Written on May 24, 2022.