Deadly ‘mystery illness’ prompts warning to remove bird feeders, birdbaths

U.S. & World

(WWLP) — The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife is asking residents to take down bird feeders and birdbaths over a mysterious illness that is reportedly killing songbirds in the mid-Atlantic.

“Birds congregating at bird feeders and bird baths can transmit diseases to one another,” MassWildlife stated. “At this time of year, birds are able to find plenty of natural foods on the landscape without needing bird seed.”

According to the agency, the disease was not known to be in New England as of earlier this week. The warning was issued as “a precautionary measure,” and wildlife officials urged residents to report dead birds.

Since late May, the affected songbirds — which include fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, and American robins, among others — have been showing neurological signs of illness as well as eye swelling and crusty discharge.

“No definitive cause(s) of illness or death have been determined at this time,” MassWildlife stated. “While there is always an increase in reports of dead birds at this time of year due to natural high mortality rates of young birds, MassWildlife is encouraging the public to report any observations of sick or dead birds (with unknown cause of mortality) as a precaution to help track this widespread mortality event.”

Wildlife managers in the following states have reported cases:

  • Washington D.C.
  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Kentucky
  • Delaware
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Indiana

MassWildlife is recommending these steps statewide:

  • Stop feeding birds and using birdbaths until the threat passes. Hummingbird feeders are fine to leave up.
  • Clean feeders and baths with a 10% bleach solution, rinse with water and let dry.
  • Avoid handling birds, but if you must handle them, wear disposable gloves.
  • When removing dead birds, wear disposable gloves and place birds and gloves in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Make sure to wash your hands.
  • As a precaution, keep pets away from sick or dead birds.
  • Email MassWildlife reports with your location, number and species of birds, symptoms observed, and any photos at mass.wildlife@mass.gov.

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