Avian Influenza

Avian influenza viruses occur naturally in wild birds, especially waterfowl and can be found globally. There are many different subtypes of avian influenza viruses. These viruses are classified as either “low pathogenic” or “highly pathogenic” (HPAI), based on their ability to produce disease in domestic poultry.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in flight, Ballard County, KY. Photo courtesy of John Brunjes Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in flight, Ballard County, KY

While domestic poultry may exhibit high mortality due to infection, wild waterfowl do not typically exhibit signs of disease.  Raptor species however, may be highly vulnerable in HPAI virus infection.

As part of KDFWR’s ongoing avian surveillance program, in March of 2015, two waterfowl in McCracken County tested positive for the H5N2 subtype of the avian influenza virus. While this virus was new, the KDFWR had conducted extensive surveillance in migratory birds from 2006 and 2010 and highly pathogenic avian influenza had not previously been detected in wild birds in Kentucky. This new strain of avian influenza was detected throughout the Midwest in the spring of 2015, usually in flocks of domesticated poultry. The KDFWR continues to monitor wild birds for avian influenza viruses as part of the National Avian Influenza Surveillance Plan. There have been no other reported cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Kentucky in waterfowl or domestic poultry. 

Information for Hunters:

Though the risk of transmission of avian influenza to a human from wild birds is very low, the KDFWR recommends hunters and bird enthusiasts take the following routine precautions:


  • Do not handle or consume game animals that are obviously found sick or dead.
  • Wear gloves and wash hands with soap and warm water after handling wild birds and disinfect any materials (knives, equipment, and surfaces) that come in contact with dead birds. Use dedicated tools for cleaning game and avoid using them around poultry or pet birds.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning game.
  • All game should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165F.  Properly cooked game is safe to eat.

Bird Enthusiasts:

Do not pick up deceased or obviously sick birds.  Contact the KDFWR if you find sick or dead birds.

  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning bird feeders
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning feeders
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke when cleaning bird feeders

Reporting Disease in Wild Birds

The KDFWR is continuing to monitor for HPAI viruses by testing migratory waterfowl and testing sick and dead migratory birds. The Department asks members of the public to help with our surveillance efforts by reporting wild bird mortality events.

While waterfowl do not typically get sick, wild turkeys are presumed to be susceptible to the virus and raptors are known to be susceptible. Hunters and members of the public are asked to help monitor for signs of disease in wild turkeys, raptors, and other birds that may have been affected.

In order to maximize detection efforts, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife asks for reports of:

  1. Mortality events of any size involving waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) and other water birds (loons, grebes, coots, shorebirds or wading birds such as egrets, herons, or cranes).
  2. Mortality events involving raptors (hawks, eagles, owls) or other avian scavengers (ravens, crows, or gulls), particularly those observed near locations or waterfowl die-offs.
  3. Mortality events involving wild turkeys.
  4. Mortality events of five (5) dead birds or more of any species.

If hunters or members of the public find dead wild turkeys, raptors, or groups of dead birds (5 dead birds or more), they can help by reporting the find by calling the KDFWR at 1-800-245-4263.

To learn more about avian influenza, visit:

U.S. Department of Agriculture

USGS National Wildlife Health Center