Science

Eastern US sees Songbirds dying from mysterious illness, scientists ask public for help

Across the eastern and mid-Atlantic United States, songbirds are dying and scientists are asking for the public’s help to understand why.

In Kentucky, officials have reported accounts of the sick birds in Jefferson, Kenton and Boone counties. 

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The mysterious illness there has affected blue jays, common grackles and European starlings so far, though others may be impacted. 

In Indiana, WXIN reported Monday that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources had identified more than 280 sick or dead songbirds had been discovered in 53 counties since May, including American robins, northern cardinals and brown-headed cowbirds. 

Vadnais heights, Minnesota, Male Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula eating from a suet feeder for birds. (Photo by: Michael Siluk/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The department has reportedly ruled out several illnesses including avian influenza, West Nile virus and many more. Smithsonian Magazine said the first cases of what it referred to as a “mortality event” were seen in April, though the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) traced back to May.

“It seems to have peaked in early June in the mid-Atlantic. We see some indications that the bird deaths are now declining — or at least fewer birds are being brought into local wildlife rehabilitation centers. But it’s still too early to really tell,” the publication said. 

The birds have also been found across Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

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Symptoms of the malady include swollen eyes with crusty discharge and neurological signs, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Residents of these states are being asked to stop feeding birds, clean feeders and birdbaths with a 10% bleach solution weekly, avoid handling birds without gloves, keep pets away from sick or dead birds and place dead birds in a sealable plastic bag inside a secured outdoor trash can to prevent further spread.

Additionally, anyone who encounters one of the sick and dying birds is being asked to report it online at https://www.research.net/r/2021KYSickBirdReports, the Bird Mortality Event webpage on the department’s website, and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Samples have been sent to the University of Georgia’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study.

Science Magazine said Tuesday that many of the dead birds had been infected with Mycoplasma bacteria. 

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“The natural resource management agencies in the affected states and the District of Columbia, along with the National Park Service, are continuing to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause(s) of this event,” the USGS said in a July 2 release

Both Smithsonian Magazine and Science Magazine brought discussed the emergence of the 17-year periodical cicada Brood X as a potential link.

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