Avian influenza (bird flu): how to spot and report the disease

Advice on what to do if you suspect there is an outbreak of avian influenza.

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Dead or sick wild birds: what to do

Advice for members of the public, farmers and landowners

Wild birds can carry several diseases that are infectious to people, so do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.

In Great Britain, if you find:

  • a single dead bird of prey,
  • three dead gulls or wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), or
  • five or more dead wild birds of any other species

at the same place at the same time, you should report them to Defra’s national GB telephone helpline: 03459 33 55 77. It is advisable that you do not touch these birds.

If a wild animal is suspected of being infected with a disease that can spread to people or animals, such as avian influenza, the carcases must be disposed of as a category 1 Animal By Product (ABP) via an approved disposal route.

If wild birds are not suspected of being infected with a disease and do not require reporting to Defra’s GB helpline, follow the advice below for their disposal.

Disposal of dead wild birds found on private property

It is recommended that you do not touch or pick up a dead, wild bird, but leave it in situ. However, should you choose to dispose of the dead, wild bird, the following methods should be applied:

Household or municipal waste refuse:

  • if possible, wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling dead wild birds (if disposable gloves are not available, a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove). When the dead bird has been picked up, the bag can be turned back on itself and tied. It should then be placed in a second plastic bag, tied and disposed of in the normal household waste (lidded bin outside)
  • place the dead bird in a suitable plastic bag, preferably leak proof. Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag
  • tie the bag and place it in a second plastic bag
  • remove gloves by turning them inside out and then place them in the second plastic bag. Tie the bag and dispose of it in the normal household refuse bin


  • the dead bird can be buried, but not in a plastic bag
  • the depth of the burial hole must be sufficient to prevent animals scavenging and gaining access to it – at least 60 cm deep is advised
  • the location must not be near any watercourses, or likely to contaminate local water supplies

Disposal of dead wild birds on public land

Where dead birds are on public land, it is the local authority’s responsibility to safely dispose of the carcases. See our guidance on how to report a dead or injured animal.

Wildlife Crime

If you find a deceased raptor/corvid that you believe to be the victim of wildlife crime, do not touch the bird. This will help preserve any evidence of a potential crime scene. Also, the dead bird may contain poisons that can be absorbed into the skin or contaminate the environment. Please contact the police on 101 and ask if the matter can be referred to a Wildlife Crime Officer. There is more information on the Police Scotland website. Alternatively, the incident can be reported anonymously to CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111.

Report an injured animal or sick bird to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) in Scotland.

(Telephone: 03000 999 999). Information about call charges is available.

Note: Please do not take sick birds to the SSPCA National Wildlife Rescue Centre, nor to any of their animal rescue and rehoming centres. Due to the current avian influenza situation the SSPCA cannot admit them due to the potential risk they could impose to other birds in their care. 

Human health implications

Some strains of bird flu can pass to humans, but this is very rare. It usually requires very close contact between humans and infected birds. Find out more at: bird flu and human health


Email: (however, only report any dead wild bird findings via 03459 33 55 77)

Animal Health and Welfare 
Scottish Government
Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate
Saughton House

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