The UK government has issued a warning to anybody caring for birds, including game birds and ducks, to be alert to the threat of a winter avian flu outbreak – particularly in areas where migratory birds are more prevalent.

The concern 

The disease tends to be more prominent in the winter months, due to flocks of migratory wildfowl carrying the disease, and the cooling temperature has brought with it a concern that if there was to be an outbreak it would happen sooner rather than later. Earlier this month, the UK’s chief veterinary officer backed this thinking up by saying there was ‘an increasing risk’ of disease incursion from migrating birds.

As well as there being general concern for the whole of the UK, the government has identified a list of High Risk Areas (HRAs) where there is increased risk. These are generally areas near where wild birds gather (particularly gulls and wild waterfowl) such as lakes, estuaries, marshland and coastal areas.

By following the link here, you will be taken to an interactive map designed by the government that will allow you to check if your premises is within a HRA. If it is discovered that you are in a HRA – robust biosecurity measures are essential. 

What to look out for 

It is vital that avian flu, once present, is identified and dealt with quickly. This can prevent the disease from being spread to other birds and other areas. Generally, it is quite clear if a bird is suffering with avian flu, but if you are unaware or have not seen an unwell bird before, the symptoms to look out for include:

    • Diarrhoea
    • Gurgling
    • Swelling of the head
    • Breathing problems
    • Blue discolouration of the neck and throat
    • Coughing
    • Discharge from the eyes
    • Lack of appetite
    • Increased mortality

The disease itself spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces. It is also possible for the disease to spread via contaminated feeders, water holders or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear – which is why good biosecurity is so important in the prevention of avian flu. One of the reasons an outbreak can be so hard to manage once it has happened is that the viruses – much like the common cold – mutate frequently. 


As mentioned previously, there are many preventative measures that can be taken to minimise the risk of your birds contracting avian flu. A joint statement by the UK’s four chief veterinary officers said: “Good, robust biosecurity should be maintained at all times, including regularly cleaning and disinfecting the area where you keep birds and separating them from wild birds wherever possible”.

There are several other methods to ensure good biosecurity practise, such as:

    • Keeping the area where birds live clean and tidy, controlling rats and mice and regularly disinfecting hard surfaces.
    • Always cleaning footwear before and after visits.
    • Placing feeders and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds and removing any spilled feed regularly.
    • Limit your game birds’ access to ponds and lakes – particularly areas that may have wildfowl around.

Follow the link to read the governments full advice on biosecurity.

Additionally, all bird keepers across the UK should register their birds on the Great Britain Poultry Register (GBPR). For owners of 50 birds or more, this is a legal requirement. However, keepers with under 50 birds are also strongly encouraged to register.

DEFRA has said it is continuing to monitor the situation and any incursions of the disease and that it is working with the poultry and game bird industries to prevent any outbreaks.