Bird watching is one of the most popular leisure activities in the world and has only grown more since the pandemic lockdowns kept us from gathering with our fellow humans. We keep life lists of the various species we’ve seen and the industry supporting the feeding of wild birds is healthy and robust. We love our birds and want to offer the best and healthiest foods. However, there is a health problem that concerns the experts and we need to change our habits until it is resolved.
Mysterious illness infecting wild birds
Scientists have no explanation for an illness spreading among our wild birds. The epicenter appears to be in the Washington, D.C. area, as that was where the first reports were noted. However, since then, the illness has spread up and down the eastern seaboard and is even moving into the Midwest and Upper South. The first birds affected appeared to be blue jays, starlings and grackles. However, many other species seem to be infected now. It is puzzling and concerning with no firm cause or explanation for the mysterious illness. Reports started coming in about the time the Brood X cicadas emerged, however experts have found no obvious connection. If it were something as simple as insecticide poisoning from eating affected cicadas, then the incidents would be more localized. Right now, there’s been no link and the connection is just considered a coincidence. However experts are looking at anything that might be the cause.
Puzzling symptoms sicken wild birds
The sick birds have crusty or swollen eyes and some are even blind. They often display balance problems, seizures and other neurological symptoms. It isn’t uncommon to see dead birds in your yard, or in parks and meadows. People that happen across the sick birds, feel they need to help the poor creatures. However, there isn’t much they can do. At this time, it doesn’t appear that the illness is transmitted to humans or other mammals, however we just don’t know much about it. If you find a dead bird, use a plastic bag over your hand like you do when picking up after your dog. And by the way, DO NOT let your pets eat these dead and dying birds! Never physically touch the dead bird and even after using the plastic bag, wash your hands well after disposing of it in an outdoor trash receptacle. If the bird appears ill, call a licensed rehabber. Your local Fish and Game Office or your local veterinarian can probably help with contact information.
Authorities ask you to remove your bird feeders
This may seem extreme, however authorities are asking people to remove their bird feeders and bird baths. Birds have no concept of social distancing and if this illness is spread through contact, we need to remove the opportunity. Dirty bird feeders are the source of several diseases and until they find the cause of this one, it’s best to remove the temptation. Be sure to clean your feeders and baths weekly with a 10% bleach solution if you live in an area further west,(west of the Mississippi River) where you can leave them up. Reports have indicated that the sick birds have spread as far west as Ohio and Kentucky, so this isn’t going away soon. Wildlife rehabbers and veterinarians have attempted to treat the sick birds with several antibiotics and medications, however nothing seems to help once they are infected. It is puzzling and concerning the experts.
Provide natural food sources for your birds
You can attract wild birds to your garden without offering commercial feed or feeders. They’ve gotten by on what Mother Nature provides for millions of years. This time of year, food is plentiful. Don’t deadhead some of your flowers. The seeds will be most welcome and absolutely never spray insecticides. Insects make up a large part of many bird’s diets, so let them live and hand pick any that seem to be enjoying themselves in your garden a little too much. Some birds prefer fruit, so plant a few berry bushes or fruit trees just for them. Give your wild birds natural food and cover. If you must offer water, make sure the container is thoroughly cleaned often. Rather than having a buffet where the birds crowd wing to wing and beak to beak, natural foods keep them socially distanced where the chance of contacting disease is lessened considerably.
Do your part to help prevent the spread of this illness
We need to give our wild birds the best chances we can to keep them healthy. This means removing feeders and birdbaths for the foreseeable future. Since it is summer, it will cause no hardship on the birds. They may have to hunt a little for their dinner, since the all you can eat buffets will be gone. However, it is for the best. This mysterious illness is puzzling the experts and they are attempting to remove all of the possibilities from the table. If you see an affected bird, please notify your local Fish and Wildlife Agency. We can’t call it a bird pandemic yet, however it does appear to be serious. Let’s all do our part and help where we can.