In the past few weeks, a new deadly disease has emerged on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, affecting a wide variety of songbirds. Scientists are still trying to determine the nature of the illness and how it is transmitted, and whether it is a new virus or a fungal infection, but it is causing thousands of deaths across a wide range of unrelated bird species, including robins, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, and others (Malakoff & Stokeland, 2021).
The symptoms include crusted and inflamed eyes and the neurological symptoms include inability to stand and head tremors. The birds are unable to fly or feed themselves and eventually die.
The disease was first noted in the Washington DC area in May of this year (USGS, 2021), but rapidly spread to the adjacent states. It is now appearing in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and is continuing to spread. Although the nature of the illness is still unknown, based on its rapid spread throughout the eastern and midwestern states, it appears to be highly contagious across a wide range of bird species (Zenkevitch, 2021; ).
We can help to limit the spread of the disease by reducing the number of places where songbirds congregate and are likely to infect each other. State authorities, even in areas such as the New England states in which the disease has not yet been found, are asking that we take down our bird feeders and bird baths until the disease has subsided, and that they be thoroughly cleaning with a 10 percent bleach solution before being put back in use (RI DEM, 2021; AP, 2021).
This isn’t a lot to ask. If we’re feeding the birds because we want them to be well fed and we enjoy having them in our lives then, until this disease runs its course, it makes sense for us to encourage them to look for natural sources of food and not congregate in large numbers at a common feeding site. Our wild bird populations are already under stress from climate change and loss of habitat. There is no reason for us to add to that by facilitating the spread of a disease. Lets take down our feeders and bird baths, clean them thoroughly, and wait until we hear that its safe to put the up again.
Associated Press (July 8, 2021). Residents Told to Stop Filling Feeders to Avert Bird Illness. Retrieved from apnews.com/article/ct-state-wire-birds-health-environment-and-nature-412ec4d6d2ec8c1c23f772a577795394
Malakoff, D. and Stokeland, E. (Jul 6, 2021). Songbirds are Mysteriously Dying Across the Eastern U.S. Scientists are Scrambling to Find Out Why. Science Magazine. Retrieved from Songbirds are mysteriously dying across the eastern U.S. Scientists are scrambling to find out why | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org)
Rhode Island DEM, Division of Fish and Wildlife (July 8, 2021). Wildlife Health Alert. Retrieved from www.facebook.com/RIFishwildlife/
USGS (July 2, 2021). UPDATED Interagency Statement: USGS and Partners Continue Investigating DC Area Bird Mortality Event. Retrieved from UPDATED Interagency Statement: USGS and Partners Continue Investigating DC Area Bird Mortality Event
Zenkevich, J. (July 7, 2021). More Than 1,000 cases of Mysterious Bird Disease Reported in Pennsylvania. WESA. Retrieved from More than 1,000 Cases of Mysterious Bird Disease Reported In Pennsylvania | 90.5 WESA