CHARLESTON – As COVID-19 appears to be drastically reduced in Mountain State, wildlife experts are trying to find answers to a new plague affecting birds across the east coast.
According to the Natural Resources Division, birds from West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC and other states are seeing cases of sick or dead birds.
Since May, federal and state wildlife agencies have received reports of birds acting abnormally and showing signs of neurological degradation, such as confusion or lethargy. These birds are often found with puffy eyes and what is described as a crusty discharge.
In a press release on Friday, the WVDNR said it sent several birds from Berkeley and Jefferson counties to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study for further investigation. Several state and federal agencies are trying to find answers.
“The WVDNR, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service continue to work in partnership with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause of death. “WVDNR said in a statement. declaration. “These labs include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, SCWDS, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Future of Wildlife Program.”
Speculations on the cause of death and health problems include a new disease, the use of pesticides and the onslaught of cicadas. The disease also appears to affect several species of birds, such as robins, blue jays, starlings and sparrows.
Katie Fallon, co-founder of the Morgantown-based Appalachian Avian Conservation Center, said her organization only received a few European starlings with similar symptoms between May and June. ACCA works with injured or sick birds to care for them, helping more than 300 birds so far this year.
âI understand the Eastern Panhandle is really the affected area in West Virginia,â Fallon said. “We really haven’t gotten any calls about sick birds and we’re getting calls about everything … we’re definitely looking for it and we want anyone who sees birds with these symptoms to report it.”
Fallon said she was also unsure of what caused the illness, although she did note that it appeared to affect young birds shortly after leaving their nest. She said ACCA received several sick birds with similar symptoms in 2016, the last time the cicadas appeared. If the birds feed primarily on cicadas due to their abundance, there could be a connection.
âI don’t think anyone has figured out what it is yet,â Fallon said. âThere is a suggestion that it might have something to do with cicadas. Maybe things that people spray to keep cicadas away from trees. But from what I’ve read, it appears to be the young birds that are most affected.
According to the WVDNR, the spread of the new disease could be due to birds congregating in feeders and baths, spreading the disease to other birds and continuing the vicious cycle.
The WVDNR recommends that people take down feeders and birdbaths until authorities provide further instructions. Feeders and birdbaths should be emptied and washed in hot soapy water and disinfected with a bleach solution.
Dawn Hewitt – editor of Bird Watcher‘s Digest and Watching Backyard Birds in Marietta, Ohio – said it was common for many people to set up bird feeders and baths without considering the need to keep them clean . Hewitt recommends that people wash their feeders and baths every month to prevent the spread of other avian diseases.
âWe always recommend in our magazine that people wash their feeders and tubs regularly,â Hewitt said. âThere are many diseases that birds can spread among themselves if feeders and baths are not kept clean. “
Some of these diseases include salmonella, aspergillosis (a respiratory disease caused by mold on seeds) and fowl pox. Hewitt said she kept her hummingbird feeders outside, but took her tube feeders down. Instead, she spreads seeds along the top rail of her fence to keep birds from congregating in one spot.
If anyone encounters a dead bird or a bird with crusty discharge, swollen eyes and other issues, the WVDNR has said to avoid handling the bird. Use disposable gloves if necessary. Keep animals away from birds. Call your local WVDNR district office, but if you must handle the bird, use a sealable plastic bag and throw it in the trash.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]