Northern cardinal. Photo by YoungSue CC PDM 1.0.
Wildlife experts from the Midwest and Eastern U.S. have reported an increase in sick or dying birds in recent months. The following species are principally affected: blue jays, American robins, common grackles and European starlings but also northern cardinals, house finches, house sparrows, eastern bluebirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens and brown-headed cowbirds. Symptoms exhibited by the diseased birds include tremors, seizures, stumbling, weakness, lethargy, discharge around the eyes and swollen heads.
Scientists are unsure what is causing this particular illness, but they have ruled out some of the most common pathogens that cause disease in wild birds, including West Nile virus, avian influenza, salmonella, chlamydia, Newcastle virus, herpes viruses, pox viruses and trichomonas parasites. The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center and several diagnostic labs across the U.S. are currently working to diagnose the disease and minimize further spread.
To date, there are no reports of human or livestock health issues associated with the outbreak, and the unexplained illness has not been reported in Louisiana. However, if you see sick or dead birds, please inform the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and take the following precautions:
Whether or not there is an outbreak of any particular disease, cleaning feeders and baths every one to two weeks is a particularly important and simple way we can all help prevent disease transmission and keep our backyard birds safe. Don’t forget to remove feces and hulls below the feeder and note that hummingbird feeders may need to be cleaned more frequently in warm weather to remove and prevent mold from building up in the feeder, flower attachments and bee guards.
Ashley M. Long is a wildlife specialist and assistant professor in the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture