An outbreak of bird flu is “killing thousands of wild birds” according to the RSPB, which says Scotland is “seriously affected”.
There are also over a thousand confirmed cases of bird flu in England, plus cases have been confirmed in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The RSPB reports that birds such as gannets, sandwich terns and arctic terns, eiders and guillemots are all affected by the outbreak.
But what should you know about bird flu and what should you do if you see an infected bird?
What is bird flu and how is it transmitted?
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said wild birds that migrate from mainland Europe to the UK during the winter months can carry the disease and lead to cases in poultry and other captive birds.
Birds can become infected with the bird flu virus through contact with infected individual birds or waste products. According to Paul Walton, Head of Habitats and Species at RSPB Scotland, wild birds, including waterfowl (swans, ducks, geese) can carry and transmit the virus without showing signs of disease.
How do you recognize bird flu?
There are two types of avian influenza, with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) being the most serious type. It is often fatal in birds.
Some of the clinical signs of HPAI in birds include a sudden and rapid increase in the number of birds found dead, multiple birds affected in the same barn or airspace, a swollen head, closed and excessively watery eyes, head and body tremors, drooping of the wings and/or dragging of the legs, turning of the head and neck and swelling and blue discolouration of comb and wattles.
Other symptoms include bleeding on the legs of the legs and under the skin of the neck, loss of appetite or marked decrease in food intake, sudden increase or decrease in water consumption, breathlessness, sneezing, noticeable increase in body temperature, discolored or loose watery feces and cessation or marked reduction in egg production.
What can the government do?
The RSPB is calling on UK governments to “develop a response plan as a matter of urgency”.
The charity says: “We want coordinated monitoring and testing of wild and domestic birds, safe removal of carcasses and protection of vulnerable bird populations. We also want action to be taken to stop the unnecessary disruption of wild birds affected by the virus.
“In the longer term, we want much more importance to be given to prioritizing and funding seabird conservation. This would help make our seabird populations more resilient to these diseases and the other challenges they face.”
What is the risk to the public?
The risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies are advising that bird flu poses a very low food safety risk to UK consumers, Defra said.
People are advised not to touch or pick up dead or sick birds they find and instead report them to the relevant helpline.
Defra said there is no impact on the consumption of properly cooked poultry products, including eggs.
Is it still okay to feed birds in your yard?
The RSPB said everyone should practice good hygiene when feeding garden birds, and also recommended “cleaning the outdoor feeders regularly with a mild disinfectant, removing the old bird food, spacing the feeders as much as possible and wash your hands.”
British veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said people who keep chickens and want to feed wild birds should make sure everything is kept “scrupulously clean” and “absolutely segregated” to avoid infecting their own flocks.
What should you do if you see a sick or injured bird?
The RSPB said if people find dead waterfowl, gulls or birds of prey or five or more of a different species in one place they should report them to the Defra Helpline on 03459 335577 or in Northern Ireland to DAERA on 0300 200 7840.
The RSPB also advises people living in bird flu areas to keep their dogs on a lead.