All aviculturists are well aware of the importance of maintaining the health of their birds, in particular seeking to avoid outbreaks of diseases, or if disease does appear then reacting quickly to treat and manage the situation. It is largely in relation to diseases and health that aviculture comes into the purview of state and national Biosecurity activities and in Queensland we are currently in the midst of a new Biosecurity legislation being enacted which could mean some change for aviculturists.
So what is Biosecurity?
Essentially Biosecurity is about the management of risks to the economy, environment and community from pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australia. Biosecurity is a system of national and international protocols, rules and regulations designed to protect us and industries. Governments have responsibility for implementing biosecurity requirements with the Federal government responsible for assessing and mitigating risks offshore and at the border, while State governments, industries and individuals have responsibilities post border. Biosecurity is essentially a human system. It’s designed by people, run by people and most often stuffed up by people!
One area of real concern in biosecurity is the continuing and unpredictable emergence of new viruses, many of which are zoonotic. That is they emerge in animals and then spread to humans. In fact 70% of the emerging viruses in humans come from animals – domestic livestock and wildlife. Viruses such as SARS, Ebola, Hendra, highly pathogenic avian influenza (eg H5N1 in Asia) are all examples of this phenomenon. One of the major viruses of concern for Australia is avian influenza with some strains already present in Australia able to cause major mortality of commercial poultry but not a concern of people, but some very dangerous strains are present in Asia which rapidly kill poultry but also kill a high % of people who catch it. Biosecurity is the suite of measures which aims to minimise outbreaks of the diseases like this and most importantly to keep more dangerous viruses out of Australia.
Impacts for aviculture
So what does all this have to do with aviculture, with your bird collection and my bird collection. In 2014 the Queensland government passed a new Biosecurity Act which amalgamated a number of pieces of legislation to provide a single unified act. This is a very positive move for our agricultural industries as there is now more clarity about the shared responsibilities of government and industries. The legislation specifies that every Queenslander must comply with a “general biosecurity obligation” to ensure they do nothing to compromise the biosecurity status of the state. So we are all bound by that. However, those of us who maintain reasonably large finch collections are essentially livestock managers and when new exotic disease outbreaks occur we may be impacted by these incursions or we may be part of the problem.
In relation to birds the main biosecurity focus of government is the protection of the commercial poultry industries (eggs and meat). However the new legislation has some potential consequences for aviculture because its definition of a “captive bird” is very broad and states that a captive bird is “a bird in captivity, whether wild by nature or bred in captivity and whether native to Queensland, migratory or introduced. Examples—chicken, duck, goose, turkey, quail, partridge, pigeon, parakeet, emu, finch”.
The consequences of this definition play out through the legislation to mean that “all Queenslanders who own 100 captive birds must be registered with the government, whether they are commercial poultry or privately owned aviary birds. In addition All bird sales, and clubs, will need to be registered separately for the duration of the event and records kept for all bird movements (both native and exotic species). Both these changes would mean further paperwork and constraint on the hobby of aviculture.
What is the concern with aviary birds?
It is important to remember that government is concerned to protect the economic value of commercial poultry production and there are two ways that aviculture might compromise those industries.
The first area of concern is the Risk that aviary birds become part of a disease cycle through connections to wild birds and magnify or exacerbate an introduced disease outbreak threatening commercial birds (poultry). The main diseases of concern here are things like Newcastle disease, highly pathogenic forms of Avian Influenza and West Nile virus.
In this scenario (outlined Figure 1) a new disease (or exotic introduction) might arise in wild birds and from there spread to our aviary birds or to commercial poultry. An exotic disease might also arise in commercial poultry and through free range poultry spread to wild birds and then to our aviary birds. Diseases occurring in aviculture can then spread from aviary to aviary through bird sales and other movement of birds or people (Figure 1). However, it seems clear that the risk that a disease might spread from our aviary birds to wild birds or to commercial poultry is very low. Feeding of waste seed from aviary birds to wild finches might be one pathway for disease movement from aviaries. On the whole though the risk that our aviaries initiate or exacerbate a disease cycle in wild birds is very low indeed.
Figure 1. Likely pathways for emergence and spread of an avian disease, usually originating in wild aquatic birds in Australia or overseas, particularly in Asia.
The second area of concern is the risk of disease introduction through imports of foreign aviary birds. We have not been able to legally import finches into Australia for decades, but we know that two diseases were introduced into Australian parrot collections through legal imports of parrots in the 1990s. These were PDD (Proventricular dilatation Disease) and IPD (Internal Papillomatous Disease). However the bigger risk is that diseases might be introduced through illegally imported, ie. smuggled, birds. We should not kid ourselves that smuggling does not happen and the best current example of the consequences of this is the recent introduction of Pigeon Paramyxovirus into Australia. This virus, which is in the same family as Newcastle Disease and Hendra Virus, first appeared in Melbourne in 2011 almost certainly through smuggled pigeons. It quickly spread to many lofts in Melbourne, then reached Sydney in May 2012 and has now been documented in feral pigeons, sotted turtledoves and collared sparrowhawk. This unfortunate example clearly shows the risks of smuggled birds and why we should do all we can to stop it.
Outcomes of consultation with the Queensland Government
In response to the new Biosecurity legislation in Queensland, QFS and other avicultural bodies wrote submissions to the Government to point out the implications for aviculture. We noted that we strongly support the importance of effective biosecurity for Queensland and Australia but questioned that aviculture created a real risk. We have since had face to face discussions with officials which lead to the establishment of the Aviary Birds Biosecurity Reference Group which includes representatives from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF), Queensland Council of Bird Societies, Queensland Finch Society, National Finch and Softbill Association, Australian Veterinary Association and several specialist Avian Vets, Australian Finch Society and the Aussie Finch Forum.
As a result of several discussions in the Reference Group we have now achieved agreement from the government that aviary birds do NOT constitute a major risk to poultry industries, but recognition that we could be impacted by new diseases. Our position was very strongly supported by the avian vets to achieve this outcome, and we acknowledge that great support. Dialog with the QDAF representatives has been very constructive and as a result the Reference Group is now proposing a change in the definitions in the legislation to remove aviary birds from coverage. This has yet to be agreed by the relevant Minister but is likely to occur. The proposed new definition of captive bird is as follows:
“captive bird means a bird in captivity, whether wild by nature or bred in captivity and whether native to Queensland, migratory or introduced, that—
(a) Is kept for human consumption or to produce eggs for human consumption; or
Examples— chicken, duck, emu, goose, quail, partridge, turkey
(b) Has been released for free flight since it started to be kept in captivity. Example—a pigeon (Columba livia) used for racing “
This would effectively exempt all avicultural species. To get this change agreed it is necessary that aviculture broadly demonstrates that we are committed to sound biosecurity and we have jointly agreed to develop and promulgate a Biosecurity Code of Practice for Aviculture. This would not be recognised in the legislation and will essentially be an “Avicultural Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice” for Queensland.
All Australian States have existing Biosecurity legislation and most are now introducing new legislation that consolidates many pieces of legislation into modern Biosecurity Acts, so the points here and the Code of Practice outlined briefly below will be relevant in many parts of Australia.
Broad aspects of the Biosecurity Code of Practice for Aviculture
The Code of Practice is now accepted by Government and is available in full at the end of this article. The key elements are:
- Prevent direct contact of aviary birds with wild birds
- Protect all water points from wild bird droppings
- Maintain cleanliness of aviaries
- Minimise visitors into your aviaries
- Practice strict Quarantine for all new purchases
- Know the signs of disease, be alert to disease and apply necessary treatments – alert avianvet if needed
- Practice care at bird sales avoiding contact with any sick birds
- Bird sale organisers to keep contact details of vendors and purchasers so that movements of birds can be traced back and forward in the event that a disease outbreak.Many of these points are simply good practice that aviculturists should already be doing to protect and maintain the health of their birds, but having the code in place will hopefully ensure that most people are aware of the issues and can adopt many of these practices to protect themselves and their birds.Aviculture is part of Queensland’s Biosecurity regime and with the elements of the Code of Practice above we can be effective in playing our part.
AVIARY BIRDS BIOSECURITY CODE OF PRACTICE FOR DISEASE PREVENTION AND TRACEABILITY IN QUEENSLAND
A Code developed under the auspices of the Aviary Birds Biosecurity Reference Group, Queensland.
- This Code of Practice applies to private keepers of aviary birds in Queensland which includes pigeons and doves, finches and softbills, canaries, quail, parrots, pheasant, waterfowl and other avian species that are kept purely as ornamental birds and that are not farmed to produce food for human consumption as in a commercial enterprise. Requirements for commercial enterprises and public avian collections are specifically covered under other legislation.
- Biosecurity measures are a series of steps that should be taken to prevent the entry, proliferation and spread of exotic organisms (animals, plants, pathogens) which may impact the health and productivity of Australia’s community, industries or environment. In relation to this Code of Practice (COP) for aviary birds the key focus is the emergence, proliferation and spread of pathogens causing disease of avian species, some of which may be zoonotic and have public health risks or be of commercial significance for other industries. However, the COP seeks to establish a series of best practice actions which can assist aviculturists to recognise and manage disease threats whether they are endemic (already present in Australia) or exotic (not yet present in Australia) disease threats.
- This Aviary Birds Biosecurity Code of Practice for Disease Prevention and Traceability is intended to be read in conjunction with the ‘Code of Practice – Aviculture’ already established in Queensland. The ‘Code of Practice – Aviculture’ specifies design and construction methods for cages and aviaries, recommended densities and feed and water requirements to ensure appropriate housing and keeping of aviary birds and to minimise the risk of escape of aviary birds to the environment.
- Taken together, the Code of Practice – Aviculture and this Biosecurity Code of Practice provide a valuable guide to effective husbandry and welfare requirements necessary to maintain healthy populations of aviary birds in Queensland.
Key elements of the Code
1. Prevent wild birds having contact with your aviaries.
Wild birds can be reservoir hosts for a wide range of diseases and parasites which can affect aviary birds. Pathogens or parasites can spread from wild birds via droppings contaminating water sources within aviaries or through contamination of aviary floors. In both cases pathogens or parasites may spread to aviary inhabitants through direct ingestion or through intermediate organisms such as insects.
Wild birds will be attracted to your aviaries or their vicinity for the following reasons: o the prospect of obtaining food on a regular basis;
o similar or related species attracted to their own kind;
o predators attempting to attack your birds;
- Wild birds must be prevented from direct contact with your birds. Selecting a mesh that will exclude the entry of small birds (finches or sparrows) needs to be considered when housing larger birds like cockatoos or pheasants and even if birds are basically flightless all aviary enclosures should be fully covered by mesh and not open to the sky
- Do not attract wild birds or other vermin to feed on discarded bird-food waste near your aviaries. Discarded foodstuffs should be disposed of as with household garbage.
- Ensure water sources within aviaries are protected from external faecal contamination.
Water receptacles within aviaries should be positioned within the covered shelter section or should have a cover to exclude direct contamination by droppings from outside the aviary. o Consideration should be given to flights being fully-roofed to prevent wild birds defecating into the aviary, but this should be balanced against the need for access to sunlight for the birds and plants in the aviary. Flights can be covered using translucent polycarbonate roofing while still allowing-in sufficient light.
It is preferable to use reticulated town water if available. If roof collected rainwater or river water must be used consider whether this should be treated or filtered before use
- Waterfowl species that require access to water should be provided with ponds within a netting-covered area. Water quality in such ponds needs to be monitored.
Wild birds should be discouraged from perching on or above you aviaries. Wild birds that defecate, preen or interact with your birds while perched on or above your aviaries can spread disease, lice and louse-flies. This risk can be reduced by:
- Not having overhanging trees above your aviaries
- Nylon bird netting or orchard hail netting erected as an outer barrier over aviaries
- Electric fencing mounted on top of aviaries to repel wild birds.
- Positioning smaller aviaries within a larger shed
Keep your aviaries, cages, feeding equipment and other implements clean and dry
- Aviaries and bird-related equipment need to be constructed so that cleaning and disinfection is made easy. The more complicated the design the harder it is to clean.
- Aviaries should be designed such that floors are well drained and do not retain excessive moisture which might encourage disease organisms and parasites.
- Aviaries with “earthen” floors could have agricultural drainage pipe installed beneath the surface to remove excess water or could be covered with a 5-10 cm layer of coarse sand or gravel to facilitate rapid drainage.
- Floors should be raked and cleaned regularly to remove accumulated droppings and the whole surface layer should be changed or freshened annually.
- High-pressure water cleaners should be used to regularly clean concrete floors.
- Feed and water containers should be washed regularly using household dishwashing detergent and disinfectant. Ideally bird-keepers should have multiple sets of feeders to allow this.
- Don’t share carry cages or bird-keeping equipment with other bird or poultry-keepers unless it hasbeen thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
- Clean any second-hand equipment before use. If second-hand or borrowed bird-handlingequipment cannot be disinfected you should not use it.Limit visitors to your aviaries and birdsHuman visitors can carry disease organisms from one bird collection to another through dirt attached to footwear or clothing. To reduce this risk the following points will assist:
- Restrict visitor access to the interior of your private aviaries, especially people you don’t know.
- Satisfy yourself that visitors are wearing clean dust-free clothing and footwear if they are bird orpoultry keepers.
- If you regularly allow visitors to enter your aviaries or attached buildings such as feed sheds,walkways, incubator rooms, nurseries or have large numbers of visitors participating in an aviary visit you should install foot-baths containing an appropriate disinfectant at the entrance and require it’s use;
- Keep a record of visitors. It is reasonable to collect basic details or even to ask to see identification of any person visiting your private property. This is valuable for security as well as biosecurity;
- For large collections consider the installation of security cameras including those that are movement-activated.
- Visitors should not bring birds into your aviaries or buildings where your birds are housed or where your bird’s food is prepared or stored unless those birds are being transferred to you, in which case quarantine measures (outlined below) should be implemented.Quarantine all new birds – isolation, observation, medicationQuarantining of all new birds which enter your premises, whether obtained privately or through apublic bird sale or pet shop, is one of the most effective biosecurity measures you can take.
- Always source your birds from a reputable seller or breeder whose bird-health and sanitation standards are known;
- Always buy healthy-looking birds and if possible conduct a physical inspection of the bird;
- A pre-sale inspection by a veterinarian experienced with birds could be warranted in some cases, If this can’t be done, a post-purchase examination could be obtained, along with a guarantee from the seller that the bird can be returned if problems are found.
- If purchasing new birds you must quarantine those birds geographically and managerially from your existing collection by isolating them for at least 30 days;
- Establish a specific quarantine cage or small aviary in a quiet stress-free area geographically isolated from your collection and ensure that all cages, water and feed receptacles and other items used in the quarantine area are NOT used for any other purpose with your bird collection
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect all cages, water and feed receptacles and other items used in the quarantine area after a set of birds leaves quarantine.
- Maintain close observation of the new bird(s) noting any signs of illness;
- Feed and service quarantined birds AFTER you have tended to your other birds. Always wash your hands using an alcoholic hand wash before and after attending to quarantined birds;
- While in quarantine consider administering a treatment regime to deal with possible parasite or pathogen infections, ensuring that all medications are administered in strict accordance with directions for that product.
Know the signs of disease
With birds in your private collection and birds held in quarantine it is valuable to be able to identify the signs of disease and know how to respond. Obvious symptoms which indicate ill-health include:
- Swollen heads, bulging or dull eyes;
- Fluffed feathers, feather loss (the latter may indicate behavioural problems rather than disease);
- Respiratory distress, laboured breathing indicated by tail-bobbing;
- Diarrhoea, soiled vent area;
- Discharge from the mouth, nose eyes or cloaca often indicates disease
- loss of appetite, difficulty in feeding, vomiting,
- loss of pectoral muscle mass, which can usually only be determined by handling the bird. Aprominent sternum (keel bone) suggests loss of condition and may be related to the expression of disease or a poor diet;
- sudden illness and death of several or more birds;
- reluctance to move, eat or drink;
- poor feather condition may indicate that the bird is too ill to preen;
- inability to walk, stand or loss of balance (especially in ground-dwelling birds);
- unusual head or neck posture.
Seek advice on how to respond to these signs of ill-health through authoritative books, other experienced aviculturists or by consulting a qualified avian veterinarian (see http://www.aavac.com.au/). After handling any birds (whether ill or not) or handling second-hand equipment you should wash/disinfect your hands immediately.
Unwanted Aviary Birds
Unwanted aviary birds should NEVER be released into the wild. This constitutes animal cruelty under Queensland’s animal welfare legislation and will almost certainly result in the death of the bird by starvation, or being hunted to death by predators. Unwanted aviary birds should be offered to other bird owners, animal welfare organisations, bird clubs, or vets, all of which can attempt to re-home the birds. Contact your club or the Queensland Council of Bird Societies.Actions for Organisers, Exhibitors and Vendors at Bird Shows, Sales, Auctions and MarketsThere are a few simple steps that organisers and exhibitors involved with bird events, where live birds are exhibited in competition or sold, can undertake to help prevent the spread of disease. Events such shows and sales where large numbers of birds from different sources come together in one venue represents a significant risk in the event of disease. With the exception of fancy pigeons Columbia livia, aviary or ‘caged’ birds at shows are not handled by the judge which removes one pathway for cross contamination between birds.
Event organisers, bird clubs and show societies should:
- Strictly apply bird-health and sanitary standards for all birds at the venue
- Strongly consider having a qualified veterinarian or similarly experienced person inspect all birds entered for a show or sale event. In the case of multi-day shows ensuring that a veterinarian is contactable by telephone is advisable.
- Exercise their right to refuse entry for any bird deemed to be in ill-health or injured.
- Keep a record of all vendors and exhibitors. In the case of sales it is advisable to also collect contact details of all purchasers where this is possible. Noting that it is the responsibility of each individual bird owner to know the origin of all birds they buy or have in their possession.
- Retain contact information confidentially and securely for a period of 12 months after the event (when it should then be destroyed) to aid with traceability in the event of an outbreak of an avian disease and to assist in an emergency response if infected birds were present at the event.
- Hand washing facilities should be accessible, or hand-sanitising products available, so that everyone in the venue is able to regularly wash or disinfect their hands and they should be encouraged to do so;
- Ensure that waterfowl and poultry are not be in the same area as aviary/cage birds and pigeons;
- Advertise and enforce that members of the public are not allowed to bring pet birds (e.g. uncaged or on a harness), or other animals to a public bird sale. This presents a danger of disease spread throughout the venue and threatens the health of the vendors’ birds.
Exhibitors or vendors should:
- Not take any birds to a show or sale if there are signs of illness in their collection;
- Ensure their bird equipment, carry boxes, crates, transport containers and feed and water containers are cleaned and disinfected before and after a sale or show;
- Avoid handling birds other than their own, but if this is necessary it is advisable to regularly wash or disinfect their hands;
- Disinfect their hands after placing sold birds into the buyer’s transport boxes to minimise possible cross contamination.
- When returning their own birds home again seriously consider a period of quarantine before re-introduction to your collection as they may have been exposed to an infectious agent. Ideally show birds and birds for sale should always be housed separately from breeding birds.
- Keep a register of all movements of your birds in and out of your premises Information, education and contacts
Avicultural associations and bird clubs have an important role to play in educating new bird keepers about practices to maintain the health of aviary birds and also have a responsibility to continuously improve the knowledge of all their members with regards to health risks and best practices to maintain a healthy collection.
As part of their educational activities, through meetings and publications, avicultural clubs and societies should:
- Actively and regularly publicise this Biosecurity Code of Practice in their magazines, on websites and social media, and at meetings and events as a practical set of guidelines to help aviculturists maintain the health of their birds
- Highlight the importance of health management and biosecurity measures as a component of minimum standards of aviary bird husbandry
- Provide specific information and presentations on cleaning and disinfection principles for prevention of avian diseases or parasites in their aviaries
- Provide members with contact details for local avian specialist veterinarians or other relevant authorities and hotlines in case of a bird-health emergency.
Emergency contacts in case of disease or health concerns with your birds:
- EMERGENCY ANIMAL DISEASE HOTLINE – 1800 675888
- Queensland DAF Customer Service Centre – 13 25 23 for Policy related matters
- Queensland Council of Bird Societies – http://qcbs.webs.com – 0419 666 674
- Queensland Finch Society – www.qfs.org – 0429 457615
- Avian Vets around Australia – http://www.aavac.com.au
Institutional Membership of the Aviary Birds Biosecurity Reference Group
- Queensland Council of Bird Societies (QCBS) – Lyle Holmes
- Queensland Finch Society (QFS) – Keith Gargett, Chris Leeper
- National Finch and Softbill Association (NFSA) – Gary Fitt
- Finch Society of Australia (FSA) – Sam Davis
- Aussie Finch Forum (AFF) – Greg Howell
- Association of Avian Veterinarians Australian Committee – Bob Doneley, Adrian Gallagher, Deborah Monks
- Australian Veterinary Association – Sandra Baxendell
- Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries – Patrick Bell, Mark Lightowler