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Mysterious Illness Affects Birds in Ohio and Indiana

Audubon partners with local conservation agencies to identify the disease and stop the spread

Updated July 7: Article updated below to reflect new information as it’s known. We will continue to update as more is confirmed.

For the past several weeks, Audubon and our wildlife partners have been fielding troubling reports of sick and dying birds across the Great Lakes region including Ohio and Indiana. To date, there are also reports of sick birds in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia areas. While we are not yet certain of the potential cause of these reports, we wanted to share details on what is known at this point based on information provided by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.

Currently, symptoms can include eye swelling, closed, weeping, or crusted eyes, lethargy, eye lesions and neurological signs. Until we learn more about the cause of the sickness and death, we suggest taking preventative measures to reduce the possibility of the disease spreading among birds congregating around bird feeders. These steps, which are also suggested by the National Wildlife Health Center, include:

  • Take down birdfeeders until more is known about the cause and spread of the disease
  • Clean birdfeeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution
  • Avoid handling sick birds, but if necessary, wear disposable gloves
  • Keep pets away from birds (good advice under any circumstances)

Won’t it cause additional harm to remove birdfeeders that are familiar food sources for backyard birds?

Many of you may have concerns about ensuring birds have access to familiar food sources, including birdfeeders. We understand and want to provide a bit of reassurance that the impacts of these temporary precautions will have minimal impacts on the birds you love. Fortunately, it’s the summer breeding season and most bird species are relying on caterpillars and other insects to feed their young, natural food sources that are readily available in nature.  Additionally, birds are resilient and crafty creatures who will adapt to changes in food supplies with relative ease, finding new opportunities when familiar options are no longer available. We hope this issue is identified and resolved as soon as possible and you can resume the use of feeders. In the meantime, for the safety of the birds, we encourage everyone to work together and err on the side of caution.

If you find sick or dead birds, we encourage you to submit a report to your state or District wildlife conservation agency. Please find contact information for each state agency below and use the links to submit reports or access more localized updates:

The Ohio Division of Wildlife reported Blue Jays, Common Grackles, American Robins, European Starlings and Sparrows have been affected. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources also said Northern cardinals have been affected. Officials are working with partners across the region and at the national level to conduct tests on the birds and will provide additional details on when results are in.

For more information, please refer to the interagency statement from the U.S. Geological Survey and partners investigating the bird mortality event.

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Minadeo, nicole.minadeo@audubon.org, 419-308-4846. 

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