North Carolina wildlife experts alert residents to mysterious songbird disease


This spring, biologists began to hear of songbirds in the eastern part of the country that were sick or dying for unexplained reasons. Now, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission is asking residents to watch for these sick birds in their own backyards.

In late May, biologists began receiving reports of sick and dying songbirds in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. The infected birds appeared lethargic with crusty or swollen eyes.

More recently, North Carolina has had its own reports of sick and dying birds – which experts believe could be from this new disease.

“We have labs that do studies on diseases of wildlife in the eastern United States by taking samples and trying to figure out what it is,” said Falyn Owens, wildlife biologist. at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “So far, they haven’t been able to find anything consistently that indicates why these birds are getting sick.”

The birds that have been rendered with these strange symptoms are mainly blue jays, European starlings, common grackles and American robins.

“So it’s a subset of birds that don’t typically have this conjunctivitis, which is the swelling of the eyes,” Owens said.

Owens said this unexplained disease causes more than just conjunctivitis. She said North Carolinians may be able to identify sick songbirds by looking for physical symptoms of neurological problems.

“Although we cannot ask ‘on a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you in’, we do know there have been neurological symptoms, such as not being able to balance yourself or having inclinations. head or walk in circles, ”Owens said. “The kind of thing that shows their brains are really affected. And of course, in the end when they die, it’s definitely not a good outcome for them.

To reduce the spread of this outbreak and protect birds from disease, Owens recommends that residents remove bird feeders completely until the threat subsides.

“Some diseases like avian conjunctivitis and salmonella poisoning are very common where there are a lot of bird feeders, because just like going to a restaurant that serves everyone on the same plate, when you set up a feeder. for birds, you encourage these birds to all congregate and eat in one place, ”said Owens. “And they’re basically like exchanging saliva and they poop on the feeder and it’s just a really unsanitary situation.”

As a safer alternative to bird feeders, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission recommends planting native trees, shrubs, and flowers. Residents of North Carolina can find a list of plants native to their area from the Audubon Society.

As the number of cases of this mysterious songbird disease appears to be declining in heavily affected states, such as Virginia and Maryland, Owens is calling on North Carolina to remain vigilant as the future is still uncertain.

“So we think we might be at the end of this outbreak, but it’s not clear if it will reappear or if it will appear in new places that haven’t seen any of these sick birds around this time around,” Owens said. . “Diseases are like that. They are very unpredictable. All we can do is watch what’s going on, ask the audience to keep us up to date on what they’re seeing and try to act in a way. appropriate.

To report a sick or dying songbird, click here.

Main photo via the National Park Service.


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