MassWildlife warns against use of bird feeders as ‘mystery disease’ spreads

Massachusetts

(WPRI) — Wildlife officials in Massachusetts are urging residents to stop using bird feeders and bird baths due to a “mysterious illness” killing songbirds on the East Coast.

In late May, wildlife managers in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs, according to MassWildlife.

More recently, additional reports have been received from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana

The mystery illness appears to have some kind of neurological effect on common yard birds.

“While there is always an increase in reports of dead birds at this time of year due to natural high mortality rates of young birds, MassWildlife is encouraging the public to report any observations of sick or dead birds (with unknown cause of mortality) as a precaution to help track this widespread mortality event,” MassWildflie said in a release.

The mystery illness is not known to be in any of the New England states at this time, but you are urged to email reports of sick or dead birds to mass.wildlife@mass.gov and include your location, number and species of birds, symptoms observed, and any photos.

MassWildlife, as well as other affected states, recommend taking the following precautions: 

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife morbidity/mortality event subsides.
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach mixed with nine parts water), rinse with water, and allow to air-dry.
  • Avoid handling birds unless necessary. If you do handle them, wear disposable gloves and wash hands afterwards.
  • If picking up a dead bird, place an inverted plastic bag over your hand to avoid direct contact with the bird. To dispose of dead birds, place them in a plastic bag, seal, and discard with household trash or alternatively bury them deeply. 
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds as a standard precaution.

According to MassWildlife, at this time of the year birds are able to find plenty of natural foods without needing bird seed.

Seeds from bird feeders can draw unwanted attention from squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, mice, rats, and even black bears.

Wild animals that become habituated to human-associated foods like bird seed can become a nuisance, spread disease, and cause problems, MassWildlife added.

Researchers say they have ruled out bird flu and other common bird illnesses. They say it’s unlikely this disease would be a threat to humans.

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