Tips to slow the spread, approach victims of mysterious bird disease in Ohio

A mysterious disease continues to to make sick and kill birds in Ohio and several other states.

Not much is known about this at this point, but wildlife officials and experts have advice for people who find sick or dead birds, as well as advice for humans to try and slow the spread. of disease among our feathered friends.

According to United States Geological SurveyIn late May, wildlife managers in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with swollen eyes and crusty discharge, as well only neurological signs.

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

Rob Curtis, ecological resources supervisor for Summit Metro Parks, said symptoms include “disoriented birds, possibly due to vision loss or nerve damage they are unsure” and “usually death. in a short time after the symptoms are observed. “

No definitive cause of illness or death has yet been determined, but testing remains ongoing. No human health or domestic and poultry problems have been reported.

What bird species are affected?

While the majority of affected birds are believed to be young blackbirds, blue jays, European starlings and American robins, other species of songbirds have also been reported.

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the unknown disease has recently been observed in songbirds in Ohio. The main species currently affected in the state are the blue jay, common blackbird, common starling, American robin and house sparrow.

Ohio counties with most of the outbreak so far include Brown, Butler, Clark, Clermont, Delaware, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Montgomery and Warren counties.

Curtis said he did not believe the Summit County Park District had received any reports of the disease, and that he had not personally seen any sick or dead birds.

Why do birds get sick and die? Are cicadas involved?

Curtis said it appears the affected birds are “mostly urban residential type birds,” but it’s hard to say if that says anything about a possible cause of the disease, or if it’s even the reality of. what is happening.

“I don’t think we know those answers yet, but just the suite of birds and where they are noticed, that could be an artefact of it’s just where people are, so that’s where they notice it. “, did he declare. . “We don’t notice them in rural areas because no one is there to see them. So it’s really hard to say. “

There has been speculation that the disease that sickens and kills birds could be linked to the emergence of cicadas Brood X, since they both started around the same time.

But Curtis said it wouldn’t make sense for northeast Ohio, given the brood has minimal, if any, presence here.

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How can humans help slow the spread of disease?

According to the USGS and ODNR, birds that congregate in feeders and birdbaths can spread disease to each other, so people should stop feeding birds until this wildlife morbidity / mortality event. disappears; clean feeders and birdbaths 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 and wear disposable gloves if handling them; and keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds.

Curtis said people shouldn’t be worried about not feeding the birds at this time.

“In general, birds certainly don’t need extra extra food in the summer,” he said.

How to report a sick or dead bird

People who observe sick birds with these symptoms or with neurological problems, such as loss of balance or coordination, should contact their licensed wildlife rehabilitator or a wildlife conservation organization. To find the Ohio listing, visit

But people should call the rehabilitators first, because many don’t take the birds.

The Stark County Park District website Joseph J. and Helen M. Sommer Wildlife Conservation Center says he is currently at his capacity for wild animal catches.

the Raptor Center of the Medina say it Facebook that he “took the very difficult decision not to welcome affected species and birds showing symptoms of this deadly disease”, including birds showing signs of conjunctivitis or neurological problems.

“There are too many unknowns to take risks with our volunteers, our education ambassadors and the birds we care for for rehabilitation,” the center said.

People who find dead birds with symptoms such as crusty, bulging, or sunken eyes should submit an online report to the Ohio Division of Wildlife in its Wildlife sighting reporting system to help biologists track the spread of disease. When reporting, available on, select “Bird – sick or dead” in the “Sighting Information” section under “Species”.

Photographs, videos, and latitude and longitude coordinates can be included to help wildlife biologists verify the sighting.

People may also report several dead birds in an area to 1-800-FAUNA.

Use caution when disposing of a bird carcass

If you pick up a dead bird, place an inverted plastic bag over your hand to prevent direct contact with the bird. To dispose of dead birds, the ODNR and USGS say place them in a plastic bag, seal the bag and dispose of them with household trash, or bury them deep. Wash yourself thoroughly and rinse your hands with soap and water afterwards.

Curtis urged people to “be careful in handling anything.” He said leaving things alone is also a good option.

“As a biologist it’s normal protocol of just leaving things alone, so I mean if it’s sick or orphaned, a lot of times we make bad assumptions and then do things that could be more harmful in the long term, “If this is a disease that affects some birds, natural selection will facilitate the recovery of the species in general. “

Contact Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills at [email protected] and on Twitter @ EmilyMills818.

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