H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI or “bird flu”) has been detected in Canada, including Toronto. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responding to cases in farmed birds, backyard poultry and wild birds. If you have backyard hens, practice enhanced infection prevention and biosecurity measures. Bird owners are legally required to notify a veterinarian or local CFIA office if you suspect your birds are sick with bird flu.

The UrbanHensTO pilot program allows residents to have urban hens in hens in specific pilot areas across the City of Toronto. It is prohibited to keep hens that are not registered with the City of Toronto or are outside of the pilot area.

Bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter are sometimes found in backyard hens, and there have been cases of transmission from poultry to humans. Live poultry often carry these and other bacteria in their droppings and on their bodies, even when they appear healthy and clean. The bacteria can get on their coop, food and water dishes, and other areas they live and roam. People who care for poultry can get these bacteria on their hands, clothing and equipment, and become sick if they don’t take steps to prevent infection.

Avian influenza (“bird flu”) can cause serious illness and death in many bird species. The disease can easily spread from infected wild birds to your backyard flock. Backyard hens and pet birds could be at higher risk of catching bird flu when wild birds migrate to and through Canada in the Spring and Fall. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to protect your birds and keep them healthy. See Toronto Public Health’s Other Diseases Transmissible from Animals to Humans webpage for more information on bird flu.

Certain groups of people are at higher risk of infection from diseases that can be spread by backyard poultry. Children younger than 5 years of age have an increased risk of infection that can cause serious illness. This is due to their developing immune systems and frequent hand-to-mouth activities. Elderly individuals and people with weakened immune systems are also at increased risk of infection.

While very rare, bird flu can spread to humans through exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments. Most avian influenza viruses do not cause disease in humans.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your birds from disease that can be spread by birds, including bird flu.

Caring for and Handling Birds

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry, eggs or anything in the environment where they live and roam; use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Adults should supervise handwashing by young children.
  • Children younger than 5 years of age, elderly individuals and people with weakened immune systems should avoid touching live poultry.
  • Do not snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat and drink around live poultry.
  • Keep your birds away from wild birds and other animals.
  • Do not have people outside of your household visit your flock.
  • Remove backyard bird feeders/baths or move them far away from your flock.
  • Wear separate clothing (e.g., boots) while caring for birds, keep them outside of your home and clean them regularly.
  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when around sick or dead birds. This can include safety goggles, gloves, rubber boots, n95 respiratory (or if not available, a well-fitting face mask), disposable coveralls, and disposable head or hair cover. Keep reusable PPE outside of your home and clean them regularly.

Maintain a Clean and Sanitary Environment

  • Do not let live poultry inside your home, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used for caring for live poultry.
  • If bird feeders/baths are not removed, clean them with 10% bleach at least once every two weeks and then wash your hands.
  • Frequently clean coops, waterers, feeders, and your clothing and PPE, including boots.
  • Do not borrow or share equipment with other bird owners

Sick or Dead Birds

  • Know the symptoms of bird flu in birds.
  • If you suspect your birds may be sick with bird flu, report it early.
  • Bird owners are legally responsible to notify authorities of serious bird diseases such as bird flu.
  • Call a veterinarian or your local CFIA office.

For more biosecurity measures for small flocks: