What to do if you find a dead or sick wild bird

Reporting dead wild birds

You should call the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77) if you find:

  • one or more dead bird of prey or owl
  • Three or more dead gulls or wild waterfowl (swans, geese and ducks) 
  • Five or more dead birds of any species

Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find. For further information see the government advice on bird flu for the public.

Be aware that birds may have Avian influenza (bird flu).

Captive birds

If you suspect any type of avian influenza in poultry or captive birds you must report it immediately by calling the Defra rural services helpline on 03000 200 301. Failure to do so is an offence.

Disposal of dead wild garden birds found at domestic premises

After contacting the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77) to report the dead wild birds, if the birds are not required for surveillance purposes, members of the public should follow the advice below for the disposal of dead garden birds.

Disposal in household or municipal waste refuse

  • Wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling dead wild birds (if disposable gloves are not available, a plastic bag can be put over hands as a make-shift gloves). Put the dead bird in a plastic bag (if plastic bags were used over the hands, the bag can be turned back on itself and tied). 
  • Tie up your first bag.
  • Put the first plastic bag, with the bird in, into a second plastic bag preferably leak proof.  Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag.
  • Remove gloves by turning them inside out and then place them in the second plastic bag. (If unsure how to do this, take a look at the Health and Safety Executive video on avoiding contamination when removing gloves)
  • Tie second bag and disposed of it, in the normal household waste (outside). 


  • The dead wild bird can be buried, but not in a plastic bag
  • The depth of the burial hole must be at least 60 centimetres deep, to be sufficient to prevent animals scavenging and gaining access to it.
  • Ensure the burial location is not near any watercourses, or where it may contaminate local water supplies

Reducing the risks at bird feeders

If you found a bird next to a bird feeder or bird bath, ensure you clean and sterilise the feeder and bath and also the area around it, if able to do so. For further advice and guidance on this, view the RSPCA guide to keeping feeders clean.

In addition to the Defra guidance above, the RSPCA have also provided good guidance on the Avian flu.