National Wildlife Health Center

...advancing wildlife and ecosystem health

Wildlife Health Bulletin #06-02

To: Natural Resource/Conservation Managers  
From: Leslie Dierauf, Director, USGS National Wildlife Health Center
Title: Wild bird mortality reporting
Date: June 16, 2006

This bulletin provides guidance to wildlife professionals on contacting the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) to report wild bird die-offs and offers suggestions for interacting with the general public about reporting dead birds.

The National Plan for the Early Detection of Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza (HPAI H5N1) in Wild Migratory Birds emphasizes systematic investigation of wild bird die-offs and disease events as one of the earliest opportunities to detect HPAI H5N1, if it is introduced by migratory birds into the United States. State natural resource agencies and Federal land managers are the principal authorities in positions to detect and respond to mortality events involving wild birds. The National Plan calls for reporting wild bird mortality through appropriate channels within each State, Federal, or Tribal entity to the NWHC. The NWHC is enlisting your support to:

  1. Report wild bird mortality events to the NWHC;
  2. Work with the NWHC to submit appropriate specimens for examination and testing;
  3. Work with the public to provide information on how to report wild bird mortality, and when appropriate, submit specimens for testing, and safely dispose of dead birds not needed for testing.

For this effort to be successful, we request that Federal, State and Tribal resource agencies report wild bird mortality to one of the NWHC Field Investigations Team (FIT) members listed below. FIT members will provide suggested criteria for reporting wild bird mortality; determine if carcasses should be submitted to NWHC for necropsy evaluation and testing; and if requested, assist agencies in developing mortality management plans and on-site field investigations. FIT personnel will also provide information about avian influenza and guidance for handling wild bird carcasses, and can provide additional information about the national surveillance strategy. 

Please contact a NWHC Field Investigations Team (FIT) member for assistance:

  • Rex Sohn, Western U.S., 608-270-2447
  • Kathryn Converse, Central U.S., 608-270-2445
  • Grace McLaughlin, Eastern U.S., 608-270-2446
  • Thierry Work, Hawaii/Pacific Islands, 808-792-9520

Call 608-270-2400 to leave a message outside NWHC business hours (8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CST).

Wild Bird Die-offs to Report
The NWHC investigates the cause of death for wild birds and other wildlife, including testing for HPAI H5N1. The significance of a mortality event depends on species involved, time of year, migratory bird movements, previous mortality in the area, number of dead birds, and suspected diagnoses. Waterfowl, shorebirds, and other species that migrate to North America from Asia or Europe, or associate with those species, are considered to be at higher risk for carrying HPAI H5N1; therefore, reports of mortality in certain target species need to be given the highest reporting priority. For a listing of bird species considered to be at higher risk for transmitting HPAI H5N1 to the United States, see the H5N1 U.S. Interagency Strategic Plan (PDF).  Tables with species lists begin on page 23. Note that if federally endangered or threatened species are involved, single mortalities should be reported. 

We encourage Federal, State and Tribal agencies to also work with their respective State wildlife veterinarian, public and/or agriculture health agencies regarding reports of wild bird mortality and/or bird carcasses.

To make reporting easier, a USGS NWHC Wildlife Reporting Form is attached for your use in reporting wildlife mortality.

Guidance for Public Reporting of Wild Bird Die-offs
When contacted by the general public about finding dead birds, we suggest instructing them not to touch the carcass with their bare hands. If the animal must be moved for submission or disposal, the individual should use disposable gloves or an inverted plastic bag to pick up the dead animal, and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards. If the carcass is not being submitted for evaluation, we recommend that it be double-bagged and placed in a secure trash receptacle for routine garbage pickup. We also stress the importance of avoiding exposure of dead animals to children, pets, and other wildlife.

We recommend mentioning to the public that there are many causes of death for wild birds, that mortality events happen every year, and that there have been no documented cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in North America to date. The HPAI H5N1 virus does not easily infect people; nevertheless, all dead carcasses should be treated with care.

In determining whether or not to retrieve or accept carcasses, we recommend that you take into consideration the location of the event, species of birds involved, size of the event, and condition of the carcasses. When a decision is made not to accept or retrieve carcasses, thank the individual for their information and explain that the information is very useful to our monitoring effort, but that we are unable to collect and test all wild bird mortalities.

For guidelines on handling wild birds, please refer to the NWHC Wildlife Health Bulletin 05-03, Interim Guidelines for the Protection of Persons Handling Wild Birds With Reference to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1.

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