Mysterious Bird Deaths in the Mid-Atlantic

Friends of BCAS, this will not be my usual informative post about things that are interesting to learn about. As you probably know, bird populations have seriously declined in the last decades (New Federal Report Confirms Ongoing Crisis for North American Birds | Audubon) and now birds in our region are facing a new and mysterious threat. A mortality event that impacts eyes and possibly the neurological system is affecting birds in the mid-Atlantic region (Mysterious Bird Deaths in the Mid-Atlantic region | Smithsonian’s National Zoo). While not yet prevalent in our area (and let’s hope it doesn’t become so) sick birds have been reported in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia counties and symptoms can include swollen eyes with a crusty discharge, erratic flight, partial leg paralysis, stumbling, falling over and excessive vocalizations. Birds affected include Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, House Finch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren, Blue jay, European Starling, and Common grackle. While the cause is presently unknown, scientists are working hard to discover the source. In the meanwhile, birds will benefit from a little “social distancing” which cannot be achieved at crowded bird feeders and bird baths.

In the affected area the USGS is recommending that people stop feeding the birds (Interagency Statement: USGS and Partners Investigating DC Area Bird Mortality Event). In order to protect the birds we all love, we are following the guidance of numerous partners and concur with the USGS in recommending that everyone remove their bird feeders and bird baths at this time. Now is the time to clean, sanitize and store your feeders and baths. (It’s easy and should be done every few months or so anyway.) Get a good stiff brush and scrub any residue out of the feeders. If you can submerge them in a 10% bleach solution, do so for about 15 minutes; if that isn’t possible do a thorough rinse with that solution. Rinse them well with fresh water and allow to dry completely. If your feeders are not easy to clean they should be replaced. At all times and when this event is resolved, remember to wash your hands before you fill your feeders to prevent carrying any pathogens from your house to your feeder and again after you fill your feeders to prevent the opposite.

When it is safe to resume using a bird bath, practice good hygiene by rinsing the bath and replacing the water daily, especially in the hot summer months.

At this time no evidence of disease has been seen in hummingbirds. If you feed hummingbirds use only pure cane sugar solution; no dyes, brown sugar, honey, etc. A 1:4 (one cup sugar to 4 cups water, boiled and cooled) is the closest to natural nectar. Keep an eye on it and replace it frequently. Store extra in the refrigerator.

If you do see an ill bird be a citizen scientist and report it. This is a local reporting link:

In the Smithsonian National Zoo article referenced above there’s a link to a reporting form I encourage you to use as well.

Thanks for caring about the birds!


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