Hundreds of young songbirds have died in the past month – and wildlife experts don’t know why.
A mysterious disease is behind a high number of songbird deaths in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Local wildlife experts first became aware of the unknown health condition in late May and have since seen it spread throughout the region.
Scientists have ruled out a number of causes, such as West Nile virus and bird flu virus, but they still haven’t found the culprit. Diagnostic labs, including a collaboration between the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Wildlife Futures Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, are trying to determine what is going on.
“At this early stage, we don’t know what is causing the disease. Diagnostic tests are pending, ”Penn Vet communications director Martin Hackett wrote in a statement to NBC10. “Investigating new emerging wildlife diseases is always a challenge because of all the unknowns – and it takes time.
Symptoms of the disease include crusty and swollen eyes which make it difficult for birds to see. Neurological issues that cause birds to stumble, fall, or have erratic flight patterns are also common.
The disease has killed songbirds, including blue jays, robins, blackbirds, starlings, cardinals and finches. It is more common in young birds that have just left the nest.
The occurrences appear to be concentrated where the borders of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware meet.
Pennsylvania has the highest number of county reports in the Southeast region. New Jersey has received the most reports from counties along the Pennsylvania border, including Mercer, Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Warren. New Castle County in Delaware, located in the upstate, recorded the highest number of reports.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates that around 500 bird deaths are associated with this mysterious disease statewide.
Nicole Lewis, a wildlife veterinarian with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, said she received around 30 carcasses of birds killed by the health condition, along with around 50 emails every day from New Jersey residents reporting dead or dead birds.
Wildlife biologist Jordan Terrell, who works for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said she suspected around 100 birds had died from the disease in Delaware.
Delaware and Pennsylvania recommend people take down their bird feeders and baths at this time, prevent birds from congregating and potentially spreading disease.
“Since we don’t know what it is, we can’t guarantee how it spreads, so eliminating many of those areas that birds wouldn’t normally congregate naturally is the first step to take,” he said. said Terrell.
New Jersey recommends that you take apart and clean bird feeders and baths only if you find dead or dead birds on your property. To properly clean your bird feeder, use a 10% bleach solution, then let it air dry.
Jason Weckstein, associate curator of ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences, said it probably made sense to take a conservative approach and have people take down their bird feeders. He added that not all affected species are eating birds, pointing to the American robin.
He believes there may be more than one problem causing the mortality event, and said more sampling needs to be done on birds to determine what is going on.
“There is a lot of information missing and I think throwing the birds away is going to make it difficult to get that information,” Weckstein said.
If you see a dead or sick bird in New Jersey, you can email Lewis at [email protected] with all the information you have, including county or township and photos. . Lewis recommends wearing gloves, double bagging the bird, and throwing dead birds in your household garbage. If the bird is alive, you can take it to your local wildlife rehabilitator or call animal control.
In Pennsylvania, you can report occurrences to the Wildlife Futures Program online. The state also advises people to dispose of dead birds with household garbage to prevent disease transmission to other birds and wildlife.
In Delaware, you can call the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 302-737-3600 to report a dead bird, with information on the species, color and size, as well as the address where it was found. If you see a live bird that appears sick, you can call Tri-State Bird Rescue at 302-737-9543.
If you find a dead bird in Delaware, you should bury it or throw it in the trash, Terrell said. But if it’s a fresh carcass showing symptoms of the unknown disease, Terrell might be interested in sending it to the lab as a sample.
“This mortality event, we are relying a lot on the public to help us – removing these feeders, these birdbaths and making these reports is really crucial,” Terrell said. “The public has been a big help because obviously we can’t have eyes all over the state. ”