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OK to restart backyard bird feeding as avian flu risk ebbs in Minnesota, experts say

The Minnesota Raptor Center had received nearly 200 birds with confirmed bird flu but only a single owl survived.

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An Indigo bunting grabs a snack in Eagan, Minnesota. Given the declining presence of avian flu in wild bird populations, the University of Minnesota Raptor Center says it's now OK to return to backyard bird feeding.
Courtesy / Emily Raleigh via MPR News
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ST. PAUL -- In April, the head of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center urged Minnesotans to hold off feeding their backyard birds as avian flu circulated across the state.

Now, with bird flu cases among wild bird populations continuing to decline, the center says the risk is low enough that it’s OK now to put the backyard feeders back up.

“Because the numbers have gone down so much and our community has just been amazing at doing anything possible to help the birds, we think now with the amount of transmission in the environment, that it's safe to once again put those bird feeders up again — from an avian influenza standpoint,” said Victoria Hall, the raptor center’s executive director.

While backyard bird feeding is a ritual of life for many in Minnesota, Hall told MPR News in April that suspending the practice for a bit could aid birds more susceptible to the virus strain hitting poultry flocks.

At the time, she said the center had been taking in one to three birds of various species a day stricken with avian flu, with many severely ill and suffering from seizures, and that researchers had never seen this much transmission during an avian flu outbreak

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On Monday, Hall said the center had received nearly 200 birds with confirmed bird flu but only a single owl survived.

She said cases peaked around April 25.

“The warming up of the weather has definitely helped because the virus can’t survive in the environment as long, and we also know that this outbreak can be driven by migratory birds so having some of those birds continue to migrate out of the area definitely helps with transmission as well,” Hall said.

“While this virus — the numbers have gone incredibly low — it’s not gone,” she said.

The center, in a recent statement, cautioned that it was still possible "cases will rise again with changes in the weather or when birds begin their fall migrations” and that researchers would continue monitoring and tracking the disease and its presence in Minnesota.

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