Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a viral disease carried by birds.  Waterfowl (web-footed birds) are commonly implicated as asymptomatic carriers with low rates of mortality.  The virus is considered “highly pathogenic” when it causes symptoms and a high rate of mortality in poultry.  All birds are considered susceptible, but the likelihood of infection, symptoms, and death varies.  HPAI has typically been highly fatal for raptors.  The current strain (H5N1) in circulation also appears to be causing an unusually high number of deaths among waterfowl.

Symptoms of HPAI in birds include:

  • Blueish skin or legs
  • Blood-tinged nasal or ocular discharge
  • Tilting head
  • Lack of coordination
  • Depressed/ruffled feathers
  • Opaque/cloudy eyes
  • Not visual or unconcerned by human presence

The virus is spread through contact with saliva, nasal secretions, and feces of infected birds.  HPAI can potentially infect humans, but the CDC considers the current strain to be of very low risk to humans.  Wisconsin has confirmed positive cases in both wildlife and backyard flocks.
To protect yourself, wear gloves and a face mask whenever handling wildlife and always wash your hands after.  We recommend additional personal protective equipment when handling waterfowl and raptors at this time, including coveralls, boots, and goggles.

Items that come in contact with wild birds (eg, towels/sheets, other objects used to contain an animal) should be laundered or washed immediately after use with a detergent followed by diluted bleach (1:32) or dispose of the items. 

If you have pet birds or a backyard flock, please do not bring wild birds near them and change clothes/shower before interacting with pets after touching wildlife.  If you have visited an area with a high concentration of waterfowl, such as a park or pond with ducks and geese, change or disinfect footwear before returning to your flock at home.


As of 04/30/2022, WDFW is advising the public to leave groups (2+ individuals) of sick waterfowl in place rather than taking them to a wildlife rehabilitator.  For group scenarios, notify WDFW (see below).

With scenarios involving a single waterfowl or groups of orphans, follow the advice on the subsequent pages.
If you are instructed by a NWC rehabber to bring waterfowl (web-footed birds such as gulls, geese, ducks, etc.) to the Northwoods Wildlife Center, do not enter the lobby.  Instead, follow instructions on posted signage, remain outside, and a staff member will receive the animal for admission outside.
For latest information regarding confirmed cases, visit USDA APHIS

For more information about the disease, visit the CDC.