From today (14th December) new housing measures to protect poultry and captive birds from avian influenza (bird flu) will come into force in England, Scotland and Wales.
Owners and keepers are legally required to keep their birds indoors, as well as following strict biosecurity measures and taking appropriate steps to keep their birds separate from wild birds.
The rules apply whether people keep just a few birds or thousands.
The RSPCA is recommending that owners and keepers follow the advice of government veterinary officers and consult their own vets where necessary.
The also advise, where necessary, putting up additional housing and following the government’s biosecurity guidance.
Keepers of poultry and other captive birds (see notes below) across must follow the government’s biosecurity rules to help limit the spread of the disease.
So far, there have been confirmed cases in captive birds in: Kent, Cheshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Norfolk and North Yorkshire – plus several more confirmed cases in wild birds.
Siân Phillips, poultry welfare specialist at the RSPCA said: “Keeping hens has become more and more popular in recent years so it’s really important that owners follow government biosecurity advice to help protect the health of their birds as well as to try and limit the spread of the virus.
“All pet poultry owners need to stay vigilant for signs of disease and ill health in their flocks and it’s vital they seek veterinary advice if they have any concerns for their birds.
“It’s also really important to report any suspected outbreaks of avian influenza to Defra.
“We would encourage all pet poultry owners to register their birds with the APHA so they can contact owners if there’s a disease outbreak in their area.”
Websites and guides
Siân added: “In addition to the legal advice, there is a simple guide providing good practice advice to help backyard flock keepers to protect their birds from avian influenza.”
The RSPCA is reminding bird owners that all species of birds are susceptible to the disease – including pigeons, birds of prey and aviary birds like finches.
If you suspect any type of avian influenza you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.
Anyone finding dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, should report it to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77)
Find out more about avian influenza and the restrictions and guidelines in England by visiting DEFRA’s website.
Other captive birds
The term ‘other captive bird’ means a bird kept in captivity which is not poultry and includes a pet bird and a bird kept for shows, races, exhibitions, competitions, breeding or for sale.
Under the current guidelines, you can exercise, train and race pigeons or fly birds of prey, but efforts need to be made to prevent them coming in direct contact with wildfowl and it is important that you monitor the health of your birds closely.
Anyone involved in keeping game birds should consult advice published by the Game Farmers Association website.