Keeping your coop and runs covered or enclosed is a good biosecurity practice to help control the spread of avian flu in Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Sherri Karch-Strouse

Even the chickens aren’t safe from lockdowns.

With confirmation of a second case of the deadly H5N1 avian influenza in Maine, state animal health officials are urging all backyard bird keepers to do everything they can to prevent the disease from spreading.

H5N1 avian influenza is carried by flying wild waterfowl like ducks, geese and shorebirds. While it does not sicken wild birds, it causes severe symptoms in domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, pheasants and guinea fowl.

The best way to do that, according to animal health officials, is by practicing good biosecurity measures.

Biosecurity is doing everything you can to keep disease-causing pathogens and the animals that carry them away from your birds. In practice, it includes making sure your coop and runs are protected and making sure human-bird interactions are limited and to avoid exposure to the disease.

Here are precautions recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture that you can use to protect your flock.

Do not allow your birds to free range. Instead, keep them enclosed in coops and runs. Fenced-in outdoor spaces can be protected by covering them with boards, sheet metal, tarps or fine-mesh netting so wild bird droppings can’t get through and potentially sicken your flock. To discourage wild birds from visiting your property, stop feeding them immediately and clean up any fallen birdseed that may be on the ground.

Keep outside visitors away from your flock. This includes family and friends, as visitors can track in contaminated bird droppings on their shoes. If people have to go into the area used by your birds, you can provide disposable boot covers for them to use or have a disinfectant foot bath ready. This is simply a shallow container with an inch or so of a disinfectant like diluted sodium hypochlorite. Anyone going in or coming out of the coop or run steps into the foot bath on their way in and out. Disinfectant solutions are available from farm supply stores.

Be on the lookout for any signs of avian flu. With H5N1 these include swollen heads, blue coloration of combs and wattles, lack of appetite, respiratory distress and diarrhea with a significant drop in egg production. These symptoms are particularly severe in chickens and turkeys.

If there is any question about the health of an individual bird or entire flock, it is crucial to report those cases to state officials so your birds can be tested.

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.