Mysterious Bird Deaths & Keeping Your Birds Safe

There have been numerous news stories and a great deal of social media coverage about mysterious bird deaths due to unknown causes. While the overall number of reported deaths is not overly alarming, they are cause for concern. In addition, although the deceased birds were originally found in the Washington DC area, they have also been reported in parts of northern Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Delaware, and in parts of Pennsylvania. Wildlife officials are actively looking for answers. It is not known if it is contagious or caused by something environmental.

Cornell Weighs in on Unknown Bird Illness

We would like to share a bit of encouraging news from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. On July 14th, the lab released a somewhat brighter outlook on this mysterious bird illness, mentioning "It appears that the incidence of the illness may be waning."

What we know as of 7/21:

  • Nine states have had confirmed cases of this mysterious illness.
  • No human health or domestic livestock/poultry issues have been reported.
  • The illness is not caused by any of the major known bird diseases such as West Nile virus, salmonella, avian influenza, House Finch eye disease, Trichomonas parasites, etc.
  • The species most frequently affected are fledgling (juvenile) Blue Jays, Common Grackles, European Starlings & American Robins.
  • Symptoms include swollen & crusty eye discharge & neurological signs such as tremors and partial paralysis.
  • We don't yet know if the illness is caused by a disease organism (bacteria, virus, parasite), or if it's the result of a toxic substance in the environment.
  • The vast majority of reported birds did not meet the criteria for this mysterious bird illness (see symptoms above).
  • It's been about three weeks since we've had confirmed data released from any of the affected states.
  • It has been reported that the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures program is accepting reports from the public but is no longer tallying counts of reported birds.
  • Customers stopping in to purchase seed and supplies continue to tell us they are not seeing birds with these illness symptoms in their backyard birds. We have had a couple of reports of House Finch eye disease.
  • It is not clear if there will ever be a public announcement that this mysterious bird illness event has concluded.

There is speculation this illness might be related to the Brood X (17 year) cicada emergence. Researchers have determined that some of the emerging cicadas were infected with a white fungus. As the cicada activity diminished in the Washington DC area, so has the frequency of bird deaths. No final conclusion has been reached.

Because there are several unknowns, officials often recommend that bird feeders and bird baths be taken down until the cause has been determined. This is to reduce the number of birds congregating in one area, just in case there is something causing the illness that could be contagious.

If you see a dead or sick bird consistent with the symptoms above, you should:

Our feeders and birdbaths provide many benefits to the birds in your backyard. Birds continue to struggle with habitat loss, reduced insects available due to the lack of native plants, and rely on your feeders and birdbaths to supplement their natural diet. You need to decide what is the best course of action in your backyard. Many customers continue to provide food and water in their yards. You should clean your feeders and birdbaths frequently and watch for any signs of sick or dead birds consistent with the symptoms above.

Keep in mind, there are many reasons for bird deaths in our area. These include:

  • Window strikes
  • Car strikes
  • Predators (cats, hawks, etc.)
  • Consumption of insects and foods contaminated with herbicides or insecticides
  • Birds competing for nest boxes or territories
  • Natural causes

The key is to ALWAYS be a responsible bird feeding hobbyist. Keep your bird feeders and bird baths clean!

If you enjoy feeding and watching your backyard birds, then you probably want to do as much as you can to practice your hobby safely and ensure the birds’ overall health and well-being. While the incidence of birds falling ill from feeders is small compared to other natural hazards birds face, there are things you can do to help your birds stay healthy:

  • Provide multiple feeding stations in different areas of your yard to disperse bird activity.
  • Provide seed from a bird feeder rather than scattering it on the ground.
  • Keep areas clean under and around your feeders.
  • Keep fresh seed in the feeder and be sure it doesn't get moldy.
  • Clean your bird feeders regularly with a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water.

The health and well-being of birds is our number one priority! We know that feeding the birds can have a tremendously positive effect on them when done responsibly. Thank you for your continued support and we are sure your birds appreciate everything you do for them.