'Mysterious' Bird Illness Prompts Bird Feeder Warning From Officials

Wildlife officials in Kentucky are asking some residents to take down their bird feeders as a "mysterious illness" that kills and blinds birds appears to be spreading in the state.

A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) told WDRB that state officials have received several reports of "sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge" since late May.

Experts have yet to determine a definitive cause of death for the birds that have died. Cases of the mysterious illness have so far been identified in Jefferson, Boone and Kenton counties in the state.

The bird species that appear to have been affected so far in the state are blue jays, common grackles and European starlings. But officials have not ruled out the possibility that other species have also been affected.

The DFW spokesperson said more than 20 samples collected from birds experiencing the strange symptoms have been sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia for analysis.

Even though it is not yet clear what is causing the strange symptoms, Kentucky officials are urging residents in the aforementioned counties to take down their bird feeders as soon as possible, as a precautionary measure. This is because bird feeders and baths are ideal sites for diseases to spread among these animals, given that several individuals can congregate in one place.

In addition, officials are asking residents to clean their bird feeders and baths with a 10 percent bleach solution "immediately then weekly," and to avoid handling birds. They are also asking Kentuckians to keep pets away from any sick or dying birds.

Other parts of the country have also identified birds suffering from similar symptoms.

Reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling, crusty discharge, and blindness, as well as other neurological symptoms—such as seizures and loss of balance—first emerged in late May in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia, the United States Geological Survey (the USGS) said in a statement on June 9.

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Sporadic reports have also been received from neighboring states, such as Kentucky and Ohio, but most have come from D.C., Maryland and Virginia, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources said in a Facebook post last week.

The USGS said that officials from several state and federal agencies are working with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the "mortality event."

Officials say people in affected areas should avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if it is necessary.

"If you encounter sick or dead birds, please contact your state or District wildlife conservation agency," the USGS statement said. "If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared as diagnostic results are received."

Newsweek has contacted the USGS for comment.

Bird with mysterious illness
This bird was found in the Washington, D.C. metro region with swollen eyes and crusty discharge. These symptoms have been observed in several birds affected by a mysterious illness in the area and other surrounding states. Leslie Frattaroli/NPS