We all know that backyard chickens are becoming increasingly popular – despite some of their associated infectious disease hazards, which we’ve discussed many times before.  The latest “pandemic pastime” takes the trend to a whole new level, with scores of people fostering chicks or ducklings as a family activity, aka something to keep the kids engaged at home while so many other activities are still on hold.  While such an activity can certainly be a valuable learning opportunity for all involved, we really don’t want kids learning first-hand about diarrhea and other nasty infections caused by bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter that are often carried by poultry.  While many (but not all) backyard chicken enthusiasts keep their chickens in (as the the name suggests) their backyard, which helps to reduce poop and other contamination in the house (please don’t mention chicken diapers to me here), many families that are fostering young poultry as part of this new trend live in cities like Toronto, where many may not even have a backyard (and where it is may not be legal to keep poultry even if you do have a backyard – check with your municipality).  So the baby birds are sharing the same living space as the people (uh-oh), including the kids (uh-oh!), and sometimes very young kids, or other high-risk individuals (really uh-oh!).

Baby birds that are fostered or adopted may or may not come with some “instructions,” or at least some tips on how to care for them and how to feed them, but it’s unclear how often they also come with appropriate warnings about the infectious disease risks associated with live poultry, and how to reduce these risks.  (Even when they do come with the warnings, it’s hard to know how often people actually pay any attention to them.) It’s really important to ensure families are looking out for the health and safety of the birds, as well as the health of the people living in the house (or those who may visit).

The Ontario government has recently released a factsheet “Keeping your family healthy with backyard poultry, including chicks and ducklings” to help provide those who have decided to try out this new trend with some additional guidance that they may not receive directly from other sources (the factsheet is also available in French).  None of the recommendations are rocket science, and we’ve certainly mentioned them all before at one time or another, but in the excitement of the arrival of some cute new fluffy feathery friends, it’s good to have all of these reminders in one easy-to-find place.  Just to name a few:

  • Wash your hands after handling birds, or items or surfaces they contact
  • Supervise children around birds (also see rule #1 above)
  • Don’t kiss or snuggle the birds (also see rule #2 above)
  • Don’t eat around the birds
  • Don’t let the birds into places where there are things that you eat (i.e. kitchen)
  • If anyone in your family gets sick, be sure to tell your doctor about the birds

As with anything, especially anything to do with animals, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before you sign up (and also be aware of what the fate of your feathery friend may ultimately be, depending on the program).