How can birds make you sick?

bird diseases

Their ability to spread a range of diseases is why a select species of bird such as pigeons and gulls are regarded as pests.

For businesses this can be problematic as it puts both staff and customers at risks, generating a negative impact on revenue, public opinion and staff retention. This can be particularly problematic for businesses operating within the food industry, as a bird infestation, along with the diseases they spread, can conflict with food safety standards and regulations, resulting in the contamination of food products and outbreaks of food-borne diseases.

bird diseases infographic

Click here to view our infographic on bird diseases

The main species of bird which are responsible for spreading diseases are Pigeons; gulls; sparrows and starlings.

You may be wondering:

Find the answers  to all your questions, and more, below!


How do birds spread disease?

bird diseases infographic

Like most pests, there is a range of factors which contribute to how birds spread diseases.  However, the main sources are their:

  • Faeces
  • Feathers
  • Nests

Bird faeces

Bird faeces, and in particular the droppings from pigeons, gulls, starlings and house sparrows, is the primary reason behind the spread of diseases by birds.

Essentially, bird faeces act as a giant sponge for pathogens. Although in small doses this isn’t harmful, when infestations reach large numbers, the build up of bird faeces can result in an increased risk of exposure.

Bird feathers

Although not as common as bird faeces, feathers can also be responsible for the spread of diseases.

A bird’s feather, particularly from those living in an urban environment, can often play host to a range of parasites, bacteria and viruses. However, it is primarily the feathers of a dead bird which carry said diseases.

It’s important to note that the chances of catching a disease from bird feathers are very slim.

Bird nests

Bird nests can also be held responsible for the spread of diseases. Bird nest can be the perfect breeding site for certain species of fungi, which can spread through debris.

To add to this, bird nests can also be a great home for parasites and other insects. In some cases said insects and parasites are known vectors of specific diseases, which can result in human transmission.


How can you catch a bird disease?

bird diseases infographic

There are a few mediums in which you can catch a disease from a bird, with some being more common than others. They are:

  • Inhaling – When bird droppings dry and become disturbed, any diseases living in the faeces can become airborne.
  • Eating – Consuming food products contaminated with bacteria, fungi, or viruses spread by birds.
  • Drinking – Similar to eating. Drinking contaminated water and other drink products can lead to infection.
  • Touching – Dead birds can play hosts to a range of harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
  • Insect bites – Biting insects can become infected with a disease from biting a bird. Accumulating a bite from an infected insect can lead to infection.


Types of diseases spread by birds

bird diseases infographic

It is believed that birds can carry over 60 different diseases which have the potential to infect both humans and livestock.

The main diseases which birds can transmit can be broken down into 3 categories, they are:

  • Bacterial
  • Fungal
  • Viral

Bacterial diseases

Below is a list of the common bacterial diseases spread by birds.


  • Often referred to as Parrot Fever
  • Zoonotic disease caused by the Chlamydophila psittaci bacterium
  • Infection occurs from inhaling airborne particles found in respiratory secretions, faces, and feathers of infected birds
  • Symptoms start to show 5-19 days after infection
  • The first week of infections shows symptoms similar to typhoid fever such as abdominal pain, headaches, and diarrhoea to name a few.


  • Caused by Salmonella sp. Bacterium
  • Infection occurs from consuming food and drink contaminated with infected bird faeces.
  • Symptoms occur 12 to 72 hours after infection and include (but not limited to) diarrhoea, fever, vomiting, and nausea.
  • Recovery usually occurs without medical treatment.

Fungal diseases

Bird faeces provide a suitable breeding ground for a range of fungi which can lead to certain diseases.


  • Also referred to as cryptococcal disease
  • Caused by the systemic pathogenic yeasts Cryptococcus neoformans and Cryptococcus gattii
  • Carried in the intestines of birds
  • Found worldwide in soil. When it becomes disturbed the fungus contaminates the air and transmission occur through inhaling.
  • Affects lungs and central nervous system.


  • Caused by Histoplasma sp. Fungus.
  • Like with Cryptococcosis, transmission occurs through inhaling air contaminated with the fungus spores. Air becomes contaminated when infected soil is disturbed.
  • Generally, breathing in spores doesn’t result in any health risks. A mild fever may develop.

Viral diseases

Two of the most common viral diseases spread by birds are Avian Influenza and West Nile Virus.

Avian Influenza

  • Commonly known as bird flu
  • Caused by the influenza A strain of the influenza virus
  • Rarely infects humans, but can spread from person to person.
  • Human infections have been a result of direct contact with infected birds and exposure to contaminated environments.
  • There have been rare cases of infection occurring through consuming food contaminated with raw contaminated poultry blood.

Newcastle Disease

  • Belongs to the genus Avulavirus of the avian paramyxoviruses.
  • Was first discovered in 1927 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, hence the name.
  • A big issue for poultry farms
  • Can cause mild conjunctivitis and influenza-like symptoms in humans.

West Nile Virus

  • Generally regarded as a mosquito-borne disease
  • Belongs to the same virus family as Dengue, and Zika.
  • Birds are a reservoir of the disease.
  • Mosquitoes become infected through biting infected birds and transmit the disease to people when they bite.


How to prevent bird diseases

bird diseases infographic

The potential for birds to spread diseases is a major concern for both home and business owners. Fortunately, there are a couple of prevention techniques available to help reduce the risk of catching a disease from a bird.

Remove access to nesting sites

Ledges, window sills, eaves, and holes in roofing are all fantastic locations for birds to build their nests.

You can prevent bird diseases by deterring birds from your property. This can be done by repairing any damages to your property, adding barriers to window ledges and other deterrents to ledges and eaves.

Keep food sources hidden

Birds, and in particular pigeons and gulls, are brilliant opportunists, and scavengers when it comes to food, especially in an urban environment.

Keeping food sources hidden by properly storing food, ensuring all bins are fitted with a tight lid and aren’t overflowing, and using barriers to protect fresh produce reduces the appeal of your property to birds which in turn prevents the possibility of bird diseases.

Clean up debris

Birds love areas that are littered with paper, twigs, grass and plant debris. It provides them with an endless supply of materials to build their nests.

Ensuring the outside of your property is clean, and free from debris is a great way to deter birds, and in turn, prevent the spread of diseases. It makes it less attractive and persuades them to find another area to set up their home.

Professional pest control

The best way to prevent birds, and limit the potential for them to spread diseases is to enlist the help of a professional pest controller (exterminator).

A bird control professional has a range of solutions available from bird spikes and netting to hawking, which can effectively deter and prevent pest birds from infesting your property.

Need help getting rid of birds? Get in contact with Rentokil today!

Bird diseases

Want to know more about the diseases birds spread? Then click here to visit our bird diseases page.

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