“Cease feeding birds until this wildlife morbidity/mortality event subsides” – still no cause(s) identified says Maryland Department of Natural Resources

“No definitive cause(s) of illness or death have been determined at this time” in the mystery illness that has sickened and killed birds in several states, as well as Washington, D.C., according to a Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) statement issued Friday.

According to DNR, “The following pathogens have not been detected in any birds tested, based on results received to date: 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.”

DNR indicated additional tests are ongoing – these include transmission electron microscopy, microbiology, virology, parasitology and toxicology diagnostic tests.

According to the DNR, “In late May, wildlife managers in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs. More recently, additional reports have been received from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.”

It was first reported here the mystery avian illness is limited to young birds.

“While the majority of affected birds are reported to be fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, and American robins, other species of songbirds have been reported as well,” according to DNR.

It should be noted other species have also been affected – northern flickers, a member of the woodpecker family, have been seen with this illness too. Flickers are often seen sourcing food from the ground.

Photo by Donna L. Cole

In other words, if you see a sick bird of any species with eye/neurological symptoms, you should report it and if the bird is still alive and in need of help, contact a wildlife rehabilitation facilitation too.

“Birds congregating at bird feeders and bird baths can transmit diseases to one another,” according to DNR and as such, precautions are being advised:

  • Cease feeding birds 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. To dispose of dead birds, place them in a plastic bag, seal, and discard with household trash or alternatively bury them deeply. 
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds as a standard precaution.

If you encounter sick or dead birds, contact your state or District wildlife conservation agency for further instructions and to help them track this event. Maryland residents can contact the DNR/ USDA Wildlife hotline at 877-463-6497.

If you find any wildlife in need of immediate help in Maryland and there’s no response at the number above, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility.

According to DNR, “no human health or domestic livestock and poultry issues have been reported.”

(Cover photo courtesy of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources)

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