Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Last updated: 21 Dec 2021 - see all updates
Published: 19 Mar 2021

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

Avian influenza (bird flu): how to spot and report the disease
Dead or sick wild birds: what to do

Dead or sick wild birds: what to do

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.

If you find a single dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), a single dead bird of prey, or five or more dead wild birds of any other species (including gulls) at the same place at the same time, you should report them to Defra’s GB telephone helpline: 03459 33 55 77 (please select option 7). It is advisable that you do not touch these birds.

Dead wild birds found on private property: disposal

If birds do not require reporting to the GB Dead Wild Bird Helpline, follow this advice for their disposal.

Disposal in 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 60cm deep is advised
  • location must not be near any watercourses, or likely to contaminate local water supplies

Disposal of dead wild birds on farmland

The carcasses of wild animals, other than wild game, are exempt from the animal by-product (ABP) rules in the UK. However, if it is suspected that the animals were infected with a disease which can spread to people or animals such as avian influenza, the carcases must be disposed of as a category 1 ABP.

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 as animal by-products. See our guidance on how to report a dead or injured animal.

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 to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) in Scotland.
Telephone: 03000 999 999 – information about call charges is available.

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



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

First published: 19 Mar 2021 Last updated: 21 Dec 2021 -