Mysterious Songbird Deaths are Under Investigation
Wildlife health experts from the Wildlife Futures Program (WFP) at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) and officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission are investigating an alarming number of public reports of sick and dying songbirds.
Pennsylvania bird lovers are being asked to take down their bird feeders and take in their birdbaths to prevent the spread of this troubling disease until more is known.
The symptoms of the mysterious health condition include eye discharge, crusting around the eyes, eye lesions, head tremors and /or falling over.
Twelve species have been affected — Blue Jay, European Starling, Common Grackle, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, House Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, and Carolina Wren.
The mysterious malady, which has a high mortality rate, is believed to have started in Washington, D.C. Penn Vet’s Dr. Julie Ellis reports that 85 notifications of dead or dying songbirds have been received in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks counties. The state of Delaware also counted 50 reports, with the majority in New Castle County.
It’s not clear what is causing this outbreak. Affected birds have been tested for several toxins, parasites, bacterial diseases, and viral infections, with inconclusive results. It is thought that the return of cicadas could be a factor. The theory is the birds may have eaten the insects and absorbed toxins from them.
In addition to removing bird feeders and birdbaths, experts are urging the public to follow four precautionary measures:
(1) Keep pets away from sick or dead birds
(2) Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution.
(3) Avoid handling dead or injured wild birds. Wear disposable gloves if necessary.
(4) Dispose of dead birds by placing them in a sealable plastic bag and discarding them with household trash to prevent disease transmission to other birds and wildlife.
You are also encouraged to report any sightings of birds that have died and/or birds that have been seen with swollen and crusty eyes, as well as neurological signs such as stumbling and head tremors.
This is an emerging wildlife health event. Penn Vet will provide additional, timely information as it becomes available at https://www.vet.upenn.edu/about/news-room