Scientists are scrambling to identify an unknown illness that has infected thousands of songbirds. According to the United States Geological Survey, the mysterious bird disease can cause blindness and death.
“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,” explains the USGS.
“More recently, additional reports have been received from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.”
The experts say that while the majority of affected birds are fledgling common grackles, other species have gotten sick as well, including blue jays, European starlings and American robins.
Between May 23 and June 30, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources received 1,400 reports of sick birds, about one-third of which had eye issues or neurological symptoms.
The USGS says that no definitive cause of illness or death has been determined at this time. Furthermore, no human health or domestic livestock issues have been reported.
As a result of lab testing, officials have been able to rule out many potential culprits, such as avian influenza, West Nile virus, salmonella, chlamydia, Newcastle disease, herpes and Trichomonas parasites.
To help limit the risk of transmission, the DWR cautions that people in affected areas should cease bird feeding until the mortality event has ended. The experts say to keep pets away from sick or dead birds, and to avoid direct contact, as a precaution.
“If at any time you find multiple dead birds in your yard over a short period of time, regardless of whether or not there is an ongoing bird mortality event, it is prudent to clean feeders and birdbaths with a 10% bleach solution,” says the DWR.
Anyone who spots a sick or dying bird in their area should contact the local wildlife conservation agency or submit a report to the USGS mortality event form.