Mysterious bird deaths—stop feeding birds for now

robin died from mysterious disease
Robins are among the songbirds that have succumbed to a mysterious disease. Please take down your bird feeder and bird bath to prevent birds from congregating to stop the spread. Photo courtesy Tamarack Wildlife Rehab Center

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Sick and dying songbirds have been showing up from Florida to Pennsylvania with strange symptoms: crusty eyes, blindness and headshaking. Birds may be found on the ground, disoriented and unresponsive. 

This has been labeled a “mortality event”– where a large number of animals die within a short period of time due to what appears to be a similar cause.

No affected birds have yet been reported in Western New York, but one was found on July 8 in Erie County, PA.

What can you do? Stop feeding birds, including hummingbirds and orioles, to help keep birds from gathering together. Take down your bird baths, too.

More on this bird illness

The bird species affected by the mortality event appear to be species typically found in yards and open spaces. These species include fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings and American robins, according to information from Audubon Community Nature Center and partnering organizations. Additional species that have been reported as being affected include northern cardinal, house finch, house sparrow, eastern bluebird, red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina chickadee and Carolina wren. 

These species are found in spaces that are frequently observed by people. The widespread impact on woodland birds and birds found in other habitat areas is currently unknown. 

In the areas where birds have been affected, the number of cases seem to be going down, noted Leigh Rovegno, executive director of the Audubon Community Nature Center.

See more information at Mysterious Bird Deaths in the Mid-Atlantic region from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

What you can do

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recommends stopping all activities that cause birds to gather. This includes pausing all bird feeding until this mortality event is over or more information is made available. (The United States Geological Survey doesn’t deal with just rocks; it also works on the health of our ecosystems and environment.)

The first thing you can do is to stop feeding birds, but don’t panic. Birds don’t need supplemental feed during the summer; there is plenty of food for them to harvest from the wild, according to information from Audubon Community Nature Center and partners. Taking down your feeders temporarily will not have a negative impact on birds.

While some people are recommending just cleaning bird baths with a 10-percent bleach solution to disinfect them, Rovegno suggests being more cautious and taking bird baths down temporarily.

It’s good practice to regularly clean your bird feeders and bird baths, she said, so you might as well clean them now before you put them away. When you’re ready to put them out again, they will be ready.

Other recommendations for dealing with this mortality event are:

  • Avoiding handling birds. If handling is necessary, wear disposable gloves.
  • If a dead or dying bird is discovered, dispose of it by placing it in a sealable plastic bag and discarding it with household trash. This will prevent disease transmission to other birds and wildlife.
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution. 

Report an affected bird

To report the discovery of an affected bird found in New York State, go to the Wildlife Health page of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

To report the discovery of an affected bird found outside of New York State, go to Sick Wild Bird Report at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

What local groups are doing

Regional groups have removed their bird feeders and bird baths until more information is available. They encourage others with feeders to do the same.

These groups include Audubon Community Nature Center; Beaver Meadow Audubon Center; Chautauqua Institution and Chautauqua Bird, Tree & Garden Club; Panama Rocks, and Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Other regional conservation organizations including the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and the Chautauqua-Conewango Consortium support these recommendations.

4 Comments on “Mysterious bird deaths—stop feeding birds for now

  1. Hi Kat, do you know where you read that? According to my information, as of last Thursday, there haven’t been any cases in New York State.

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