Mysterious bird illness: What’s known so far about disease killing songbirds

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A mysterious disease has been rippling across portions of the mid-Atlantic and the Midwest, and now the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is on alert as reports of dead birds have been on the increase across the state.

Numerous reports of this disease have been reported across Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. David Hanni, the Bird Conservation Coordinator at the TWRA, is concerned, “because we don’t really know what it is at this point.”

According to the TWRA, the disease is causing eye swelling and crusty discharge from the eyes of birds and may also be associated with neurological symptoms.

The disease is affecting songbirds, primarily bluejays, European starlings, American robins, and common grackles. Hatchlings are especially vulnerable.

While there are no confirmed cases yet in Tennessee, the disease may already be present. “That’s where we are in Tennessee right now just trying to collect birds that are exhibiting these symptoms and get those to the lab for testing,” says Hanni.

While scientists have yet to identify the cause of these symptoms, they have ruled out various ailments, “It doesn’t have a name yet, and obviously tested for all the normal diseases or diseases that have currently been found in birds like West Nile Virus, Salmonella, Avian Influenza, and so those tests have already been conducted.”

So what should you do if you see a sick or dead bird? Here is a list of recommendations from the TWRA:

  • Cease feeding birds and cover bird baths, if dead birds are found until this wildlife mortality event subsides (food sources are not limited during the summer).
  • Clean up any excess feed that has spilled or was placed onto the ground
  • Clean feeders and birdbaths with a 10 percent bleach solution (one-part bleach mixed with nine parts water), rinse with water and allow to air dry.  Do not replace them.
  • 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 you find recently deceased birds exhibiting crustiness or bulging eyes and/or neurological issues, please use your discretion to contact the TWRA at (615) 781-6500.

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