Sunday, December 4, 2022

A Mysterious Illness is Killing Birds in Virginia. Here’s What You Can Do

A sick blue jay found in the Washington, D.C., area. (Courtesy of Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources)

STATEWIDE — Bird lovers across the east coast are being asked to take down bird feeders in response to a mysterious illness affecting birds. 

According to a July 6 news release from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), wildlife managers in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky began receiving reports in May regarding sick and dying birds who were observed as having eye swelling and crusty discharge. Additionally, there were also signs of neurological difficulties. 

Between May 23 and June 30, the DWR received over 1,400 of these reports from the aforementioned areas.  Approximately 450 of the reported cases described eye issues and/or neurological signs.

The Virginia areas affected by the mortality event include: Alexandria, Arlington, Clarke, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Manassas, Prince William, Shenandoah, Warren, and Winchester.  

Several infectious agents have been ruled out as possible culprits; Salmonella and Chlamydia (bacterial pathogens); avian influenza virus, West Nile virus and other flaviviruses; Newcastle disease virus and other paramyxoviruses, herpesviruses and poxviruses; and Trichomonas parasites. 

Additional microbiology, virology, parasitology, and toxicology diagnostic testing is ongoing.

While no direct cause has been identified, there are speculations that cicadas may have something to do with the illness. 

The recent arrival of Brood X cicadas in the mid-Atlantic region overlaps in the same areas as the reports of the bird illness.

RELATED STORY:  17-year-old Cicadas are due to arrive in Virginia

According to the Yorktown Wild Birds Unlimited, the species affected by the illness also loves to feast on cicadas. Before the alien-looking insects emerge above ground, Brood X spends 17 years underground, where they may have accumulated pesticides or other contaminants. 

However, these reports are just speculation and WYDaily cannot confirm that there is indeed a correlation between the Brood X cicadas and the mysterious illness affecting birds in the mid-Atlantic region.

To keep the spread of the illness down, DWR is asking people to reduce areas where birds congregate. Bird feeders and bird baths can transmit diseases among congregating birds.

Here are several tips provided by the DWR to help reduce the spread: 

  • Cease feeding birds in the affected areas until this wildlife morbidity/mortality event subsides.
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach mixed with nine parts water), rinse with water, and allow to air dry.
  • Avoid handling birds unless necessary. If you do handle them wear disposable gloves. If picking up a dead bird, place an inverted plastic bag over your hand to avoid direct contact with the bird.
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds as a standard precaution.
  • If at any time you find multiple dead birds in your yard over a short period of time, regardless of whether or not there is an ongoing bird mortality event, it is prudent to clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution.

If you encounter sick or dead birds in Virginia, please submit an event report. The form to report bird mortality can be found here

To dispose of dead birds, place in a plastic bag, seal, and discard with household trash or alternatively bury them deeply. DWR will alert the public when the mortality event has concluded and bird feeding can be resumed in the affected areas. Additional information will be shared as diagnostic results are received.

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