Multiple sick and dying Cooper’s and red-tailed hawks are being found in Maryland – all are juveniles (young birds that recently fledged from their nest) and all have debilitating neurological issues.
It’s not known if this hawk sickness, which results in seizures and an inability to fly, is related to the similar, mass mortality issue being experienced with songbirds in several states and Washington, D.C.
Songbirds are often consumed by hawks.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and several state conservation agencies, including the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), released an interagency statement about the songbird mass mortality issue with one update thus far.
Neither agency has released any information to the public about sick hawks being found in Maryland.
In the most recent request for information earlier this week, the email to the USGS and DNR reads –
“Is anyone from the USGS or DNR planning to release a statement that another mortality issue with neurological symptoms is being seen in hawks and that it may or may not be related to the similar issue with songbirds? I think the public has a right to know what’s going on – if for no other reason than to ensure the safety of their pets, but also because these sick birds should be taken to rehabbers.”
Marisa Lubeck, USGS public affairs specialist responded, “I’ll have to defer to the state agencies on this since I don’t have updated information from the USGS end to report out. We don’t have additions to the interagency statement at this point. It’s up to the jurisdictions whether they want additional reports of raptors or any other birds, and how the jurisdictions will follow up (by submitting carcasses to labs or not) will likely depend on the state.”
No response has been received from DNR thus far.
In Washington, D.C., which seemed to be the early epicenter of the songbird mortality issue, there aren’t as many hawks being seen at City Wildlife.
“We haven’t seen the hawks lately — none at all since the 21st — but we had been getting a higher than usual number of them in the first half of July. We tested some of them for West Nile, but those tests came back negative,” emailed Jim Monsma, director of City Wildlife.
But City Wildlife is still seeing songbirds with neurological issues.
Monsma explained, “We are however seeing three or four sparrows each week who are showing neurological signs reminiscent of the symptoms we were seeing in late May and early June.”
And there’s more bad news for another species.
Monsma emailed, “The biggest problem at the moment is thin and neurological crows (both American and Fish), usually two to three a day, about forty of them since late May with the majority of them in July. Some have oral trichomoniasis, but we are also awaiting test results for West Nile. Few survive despite our treatments, but we mostly get the birds when the condition is very advanced and the bird is very, very sick.”
According to the Audubon California website, “While crows can be wary of people, they can be rough on other birds, predating other species’ nests. While some birds have adapted to lay more eggs to compensate for this, nest predation from crows has prompted the populations of some sensitive species to reach perilously low levels.”
Earlier this week, in the Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis, three Cooper’s hawks were found, likely from the same nest and all had neurological issues – one was transported to Owl Moon Raptor Center, one was transported to Frisky’s Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary and one died – it was taken to the SPCA of Anne Arundel County.
Just after capturing one of the Cooper’s hawks, an unleashed dog was sniffing the area where the bird had been. The owner of the dog was cautioned to get his dog away from the area. Not far away was a full bird feeder and bird bath. The property owner was cautioned to remove both.
While there are several diseases that have been ruled out with the songbird issue, there’s still not a definitive cause and it’s not known if it’s communicable. People have been asked to keep pets away from sick/dead birds and remove bird feeders/baths – all of which could spread disease.
Nancy McDonald, a volunteer bird of prey rescuer, let people know about the hawk issue on the IDEA Birders of Maryland & DC Facebook group. She wrote, “I want to give you all a heads up. We are now picking up hatch year Cooper’s Hawks that are going full blown neurological. At the moment, to the best of my knowledge, the mortality rate is 100%. If you or anyone you know sees one and is going to handle it, please glove up, as I don’t know if it’s contagious to humans. If you are out walking your pet, please keep it leashed up and don’t let it come in contact with any of these birds, should you find any on your walk about. Otherwise, please let me, Donna Cole, any local wildlife rehabber that has experience with raptors or Owl Moon Raptor Center know. If you do pick one up and box it, please feel free to go ahead and transport it. Please call ahead to any rehabber you choose, to make sure they are open to receive the bird. My understanding is that DNR is also getting a ton of calls about neurologically impaired Coopies as well. Please feel free to DM me with any questions you may have. I know this is a lot of pleases – thank you.”
Just after capturing one of the Cooper’s hawks in Eastport, an unleashed dog was sniffing the area where the bird had been. The owner of the dog was cautioned to get his dog away from the area. The night before, in the same area, was a full bird feeder and bath. The property owner was advised to remove both.
For sightings of any sick birds in Maryland, including hawks, contact a licensed wildlife rehabber.
Donna L. Cole is an award-winning investigative and multimedia reporter who works for WNAV News. She’s also a volunteer bird of prey rescuer.