On July 14, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife reported that an unknown disease is circulating among birds in the U.S. The cause of the illness or deaths are not known at this time. The DFW requested that people report sick or dead birds with an unknown cause of death “as a precaution to help track this widespread mortality event.” DFW stated there is a naturally high death rate among young birds during this time of the year, but they are requesting information on dead birds because of the mysterious disease’s appearance.
Birds afflicted with the disease have symptoms of “eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs.” So far, the disease has been found primarily in fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, and American robins. However, other songbirds have also been affected. The disease was first reported in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky in May, but has now spread further, to the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. The disease has not been found in New England so far.
Martha’s Vineyard is a rural area with a lot of farms. Will chickens be threatened by this disease? According to Suzan Bellincampi, Islands director for Mass Audubon, chickens are not in danger of the disease as of yet. Songbirds are the ones afflicted by the mystery disease, but other types of birds being infected cannot be ruled out yet.
It is very possible for the disease to come to Martha’s Vineyard. “Our Island status doesn’t matter when they have wings,” Bellincampi said. “Every place that has birds is at risk.”
To prevent the spread of this mystery disease, DFW is recommending people take down birdhouses and birdbaths until more information is available. This is because birdhouses and birdbaths are places birds gather and can transmit diseases to each other. Alongside this advice, DFW also listed the following precautions it recommends people take:
- Cease feeding birds until this wildlife morbidity/mortality event subsides.
- Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10 percent 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 afterward.
- 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.
“You can think about it as social distancing for birds,” said Bellincampi.