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Bird disease spreads in east, excessive heat threatens birds in west

This is a health juvenile Blue Jay photographed in 2016. In recent weeks, Blue Jays and other species have been hit hard by a mysterious illness. Photo by David Mundy

The mysterious disease or condition that has killed untold numbers of birds in Washington, D.C., and surrounding states has now been documented in three additional states — Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana — according to articles published this week by NBC News, The Guardian, and local news organizations. Previous reports had come from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. 

Many of the avian victims have had crusty eyes and swollen faces, neurological problems, and have been unable to stay balanced or to fly. The most common species reported in the outbreak have been Blue Jays, Common Grackles, and European Starlings, according to NBC. No definitive cause of death has been identified so far, according to a U.S. Geological Survey statement issued on June 9.

“They’ll just sit still, often kind of shaking,” Kate Slankard, an avian biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, told NBC. “It’s pretty safe to say that hundreds of birds in the state have had this problem.”

“We’re all working together as a multistate group to try to figure out what’s going on,” Slankard said. “Diagnosing these problems is complex because several rounds of lab tests must be done.”

As we reported on June 11, experts recommend people take down their bird feeders in the affected areas and clean bird baths with a 10% bleach solution. 


BirdWatching has contacted the federal government’s National Wildlife Health Center for details on the disease investigation and will share what we learn.

An Arizona state trooper holds a Golden Eagle after rescuing the bird from the side of Interstate 17 in mid-June. Photo by the Arizona Department of Public Safety

Meanwhile, in the western states, the ongoing severe heat is hitting raptors particularly hard. The San Luis Obispo Tribune reported recently that birds of prey are suffering heat stroke in Arizona due to temperatures near 120 degrees.

“As many as 20 birds a day are being treated this week by Arizona raptor rescue agencies, including large birds found sitting in traffic,” the paper said. “The Arizona Department of Public Safety reported Thursday a state trooper stopped to investigate a pile of ‘debris’ on Interstate 17 near Camp Verde, and discovered it was a delirious golden eagle. The bird — about the size of a beagle — was unable to fly.”

The bird, which was not injured and didn’t have a disease, is being treated with IV fluids and food at Wild At Heart, a raptor rehabilitation center, and is reportedly doing well. But with excessive heat descending on the West over the coming days, it may be one of the lucky ones.


Wild At Heart posted on Facebook: “Please put out water for our young birds that can’t fly yet to water and all the birds and wildlife that need shade and water to survive this summer.”


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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at [email protected].

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