Dear Audubon Supporter,
For several weeks the Audubon Society of Rhode Island has been closely monitoring an unknown disease that has been causing bird deaths in several mid-Atlantic states, including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Washington D.C.
There have been no cases of this illness reported in New England as of this date.
Symptoms include swollen and crusted eyes, tremors, and paralysis among songbirds. The illness is most frequently seen in fledgling (juvenile) Blue Jays, Common Grackles, European Starlings, and American Robins. Our colleagues at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology state that “the illness is not caused by any of the major known bird diseases such as West Nile, salmonella, avian influenza, House Finch eye disease, Trichomonas parasites, etc.” While there are still cases of the illness being reported, it does appear to be waning in the affected states.
According to Cornell, scientists don’t yet know if the illness is caused by a disease organism (i.e., virus, bacteria, or parasite) or if it’s the result of a toxic substance in the landscape. There is also uncertainty on how it is transmitted. It may be directly spread from bird to bird (like a cold or the flu), or might require a vector (such as with malaria or West Nile, where a mosquito transmits the illness). No human health or domestic livestock/poultry issues have been reported. Diagnostic laboratories at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program, and the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory are investigating the cause(s) of this event.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) has recommended taking down bird feeders and bird baths at this time. As birds congregate at bird feeders and bird baths, their close proximity has the potential to accelerate the spread of illness.
Audubon is also recommending that you temporarily take down backyard bird feeders and bird baths out of an abundance of caution and until more is known about the spread of this disease.
Be assured that there are plenty of high-quality food and water sources available in nature. In fact, birds prefer native food for its high-energy value and abundance.
We assume this pause on bird feeding will be temporary and Audubon will continue to monitor and update you on this issue.
If you come across several dead birds, or birds with crusty eyes or paralysis, please contact RIDEM immediately with the link provided below. Note that at this time of year, bird mortality can be as high as 25-50% due to natural causes. Finding an occasional dead bird should not be alarming. In fact, flying into windows and feral cats are the leading cause of bird mortality.
Bird enthusiasts can also support local birds by opting to plant native, bird-friendly plants in their yards instead of a bird feeder. Our friends at National Audubon have a native plant database to help you determine the native plants that appeal to local birds. While the site allows you to purchase plants, shrubs, and trees online, you can also take this list to a nearby nursery or garden center to purchase locally.
Things You Can Do:
- Temporarily take down your feeders and bird baths.
- Clean your feeders with a 10% bleach solution (1 oz. of bleach to 10 oz. of water). It is always best to follow a feeder cleaning schedule of every two weeks, regardless of weather or wildlife issues. Clean more often in severely wet weather. Bird baths should be carefully cleaned with a 10% bleach solution as well to remove any mold and bacteria build up, rinsed well and air dried completely.
- Always keep pets away from sick or dead wild animals or birds.
- If you observe or hear of any sick or dead birds with crusty eyes or neurological impairment, please contact RIDEM Division of Fish and Wildlife by using their reporting system, calling 401-789-0281 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Avoid handling dead birds. If you must remove one, use gloves and place it in a sealed bag before disposing of it in your trash.