Birds in Monroe and other Indiana counties are dying from a mysterious disease and state officials are asking residents to quit using bird feeders and bird baths, which may help spread the disease.
State bird biologist Allisyn-Marie Gillet said Bloomington’s WildCare wildlife rehabilitation center was the first to notify state officials about birds that were being brought in with eye problems and were dying. The affected birds show neurological problems and have swollen eyes with a crusty discharge.
The mysterious disease was first reported in the Washington, D.C., area in late May and since then has been discovered in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Birds affected have included blue jays, American robins, common grackles, northern cardinals and European starlings.
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“So far it’s been a lot of blue jays and starlings,” Gillet said of birds spotted in Indiana with the disease. Infected robins are rare, as are cardinals and brown-headed cowbirds, she said. She said there is a possibility some woodpeckers may have the disease as well.
Samples have been sent to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Virginia and the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in West Lafayette, as well as other labs in affected states.
“We are trying to find out collectively what is causing this disease,” Gillet said.
The labs have determined it is not West Nile virus or avian flu. The labs and biologists are working as fast as possible to undercover the cause but also are trying to evaluate every possibility, Gillet said. That includes the Brood X cicadas, which are being tested as well.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account
Gillet recommends anyone in affected areas — which includes Monroe, Clark, Jefferson, LaGrange, Lake and Marion counties — should immediately quit using bird feeders and bird baths.
The recommendation is to empty the feeders and baths using disposable gloves, wash them with a 10% bleach solution and to discontinue using them until more is known about the disease.
Anyone who sees a bird that’s acting tired, tilting its head or falling down should report it. Also any dead bird with swollen or crusty eyes that was not killed by a predator or because it hit a window should be reported to state officials at on.in.gov/sickwildlife. On Wednesday, Gillet had shifted through about 50 reports within the last 24 hours.
“We’re specifically looking for birds that are exhibiting these symptoms. That helps us to track the disease,” Gillet said.
But state officials will not remove carcasses and do not want people to send dead birds to them.
Gillet said both people and their pets are advised to stay away from any sick or dead birds since it’s not clear if this can be passed to other animals.
Gillet said state officials are most concerned about the disease possibly spreading beyond birds.
“Can this spread widely?” Gillet asked, adding that so far no other animal has exhibited symptoms that they know of, which, she said, is part of the mystery.