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Bird Migration Season and Your Hen’s Health

With winter approaching our thoughts turn to the annual wild bird migration and the impact that this can have on our own pet hen’s health. 

As this is the start of the migration season in north western Europe, and we are expecting our wild waterfowl population to increase over the coming months, the government has raised the risk level for incursion of avian influenza through the movements of wild birds to “MEDIUM”. 

The Netherlands has reported two cases of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N8 in wild waterfowl (mute swans). A preliminary outbreak assessment of the situation in the Netherlands has been published on GOV.UK

The risk for an introduction of Avian Influenza (AI) into poultry is LOW, provided strong biosecurity is in place.

Avian Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of birds and is classed as a notifiable disease. AI is commonly carried by waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, and during the bird migratory season the UK bird population is at higher risk. In wetland areas where native birds may share space with newly arrived waterfowl the disease can spread into the wider bird population.

This may sound alarmist, and the first thing to say is don’t panic but do think about prevention. Give some thought to what you would need to put in place should the disease enter the UK. There are simple ways to keep your pets safe:

  • Remove wild bird feeders from the vicinity of your chickens
  • Keep your feeders and drinkers undercover
  • Clear up spilled feed regularly to discourage vermin
  • If you can do so, keep your birds in a netted run area
  • A simple boot dip used when you enter or leave your chicken run can be made from a plastic storage box and viricidal disinfectant.

While the UK is currently AI free, it’s a good time to start practising good hygiene and checking your birds routinely for signs of illness. Secure rodent-free accommodation and a commitment to daily care is key.

Signing up to the DEFRA poultry register will mean that you receive a text message if you live in a high-risk area.

Registration is compulsory if you keep more than 50 birds. You can sign up here.

Sadly, with the Highly Pathogenic strain (HPAI) most infected birds do not survive. Those infected with the Low Pathogenic strain (LPAI) show milder symptoms and can recover. Any suspected cases must be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) here.


Birds typically have a blue facial colouring with sneezing, coughing, weight loss and head shaking (although many of these symptoms are found with other diseases). Sudden death is common with HPAI.

You can find the latest government advice here.

If you’d like advice on your hen’s health, why not visit our Hen Health page, where we discuss important things to look for in your hen’s health, whether its personality or physical symptoms. Or, head to our Hen Examination Guidelines where we can show you where to find things like the crop or the wattle.

If you need to seek medical advice, click here to find your nearest Hen Friendly Vet.
You can also call Hen Central on 01884 860084 to speak to one of our rehoming assistants.

Giving a gift today helps fund our Hen Helpline. It helps support hen keepers, giving them the best advice on how to care for their hens. If you have found our advice helpful, please consider giving a gift towards the hen helpline here.

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