Wildlife centers, rehabilitators and veterinarians are searching for answers to numerous reports of sick and dying birds with swollen eyes, a crusty eye discharge and neurological signs such as unusual head bobbing and difficulty with balance, in Northern Virginia, D.C., West Virginia and Maryland over the last four weeks. The illness has been spotted mainly in fledgling (juvenile) grackles, European starlings and blue jays as well as some robins, mockingbirds and wrens. They have not responded well to treatment, often quickly declining in health and dying. Birds have been sent to several wildlife health laboratories for necropsies to try to determine what is causing the disease but with no answers yet. Hundreds of birds have been sickened and have died throughout the region.
Birds congregating at feeders and bird baths may be transmitting the disease to one another. The Commonwealth of Virginia and the District of Columbia agencies recommend that the public stop feeding birds, clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution and keep pets away from sick or dead birds. There is no evidence that the ailment is transferable to humans or other animals, but the public should avoid handling the birds. If handling is required, wear disposable gloves. Additionally, if you find a dead bird, place it in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. until a diagnosis is made.
If a dead bird is found, please take the following steps:
- Remove bird feeders and baths for the time being and clean with 10% bleach solution;
- Handle birds sparingly, and use disposable gloves;
- Keep pets and children away from sick or dead birds;
- Dispose of dead birds in plastic bags in the trash;
- Bring sick birds to VCA Alexandria; have them picked up by Alexandria or Arlington County Animal Welfare Leagues; or ask their local vet if they can euthanize; and
- Report to the Virginia DWR using the online form DWR Sick Bird Reporting Form or at https://dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/bird-mortality-reporting-form/
If you find other orphaned, sick or injured wildlife in Virginia and need advice on what to do or where to take it, contact Wildlife Rescue League’s helpline 703-440-0800. The helpline is open from 9AM to 7PM 365 days a year.
Written by: By Carolyn Wilder, Acting President, Wildlife Rescue League with tips by Paul Stipe, Helpline Coordinator, Wildlife Rescue League.
Photos courtesy of Blue Ridge Wildlife Center