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Take bird feeders down in D.C., nearby states, experts say

Illustration by Dzm1try/Shutterstock

Wildlife experts in Washington, D.C., and nearby states say they have not identified the cause of recent deaths of many birds in the region, but they are encouraging the public to temporarily cease feeding birds to avoid the potential spread of disease at feeders.

In late May, wildlife managers and rehabbers in Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs.

The District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and National Park Service are continuing to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause of mortality. Those laboratories include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.

A report on the National Wildlife Health Center’s WHISPers site, which summarizes incidents of wildlife illnesses and mortality nationwide, shows 37 dead or sick birds — Common Grackles, Blue Jays, American Robins, and European Starlings — from several counties in Virginia on May 20. 

Birds congregating at feeders and baths can transmit disease to one another. Therefore, the state and district agencies recommend that the public in the outbreak area:

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded;
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution;
  • Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary; and
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

If you encounter sick or dead birds, please contact your state or district wildlife conservation agency. If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared as diagnostic results are received.

Thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey for providing this news.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

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

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