Mysterious Songbird Disease Reaches Area

Widespread Impact

Because of a “mortality event” impacting songbirds in the central and eastern regions of the United States, local nature conservation organizations have removed their bird feeders and bird baths. Photo by Tamarack Wildlife Rehab Center

Local nature conservation organizations are trying to figure out what is causing the deaths of songbirds — a mysterious illness that has now reached the area.

“We have been following this for the last few weeks,” said Leigh Rovegno, Audubon Community Nature Center executive director. “It has been moving closer and closer to the area until we got a report of one in Erie. We have also been getting reports of affected birds in Warren and Russell, Pa., so we thought it was time to get out some information.”

Leigh said while word of birds inflicted with the disease — with symptoms that include crusty eyes, shaking heads and eventually death — started out in other areas of the United States, the first one was recently reported near Erie County in Pennsylvania.

A push has been made regionally encouraging residents to following the recommendation of the United States Geological Survey to stop activities that cause birds to gather. Activities include pausing all bird feeding and removing bird baths.

Local organizations are recommending the same precautions.

“We are trying to reduce gatherings in places such as feeders and baths until we find out how this illness is being spread,” Rovegno said. “We don’t know that much yet, but reducing the gathering of birds will help us find out more.”

During the summer months birds do not need as much food from bird feeders as there is enough in the wild. Another recommendation from the USGS includes cleaning bird feeders regularly.

Rovegno added that the audubon has also been printing information and recommendations in places where they sell birdseed.

“We have been posting the information wherever our bird seed is being sold,” Rovegno said. “We want people to know about it when they buy it, but we’re leaving it up to the people to do the right thing.”

The mysterious disease typically causes birds to display specific symptoms prior to death. Scientists refer to this as a mortality event — or something that causes a large number of animals of the same species to die within a short period of time of the same disease or something similar.

Species that are being impacted include fledgling Common Grackles, Blue Jays, European Starlings and American Robins with additional reports of Northern Cardinals, House Finches, House Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees and Carolina Wrens also being affected.

However, these species are mostly found in spaces that are frequently observed by people. The widespread impact on woodland birds and birds found in other habitat areas is currently unknown.

The USGS recommends stopping all activities that cause birds to gather. These activities include pausing all bird feeding, including for hummingbirds and orioles, until this songbird mortality event is over or more information is made available.

Additional recommendations made by the USGS include cleaning all bird feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution to disinfect them. Avoiding handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary. If a dead or dying bird is discovered, dispose of it by placing it in a sealable plastic bag and discarding it with household trash. This will prevent disease transmission to other birds and wildlife. Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

In light of all of the information, the Audubon Community Nature Center, Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, Chautauqua Institution and Bird, Tree & Garden Club, Panama Rocks, and Roger Tory Peterson Institute have chosen to remove their bird feeders and bird baths until more information is available. Other regional conservation organizations including the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and the Chautauqua-Conewango Consortium support these recommendations.


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