Sick Bluejay

On July 2, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources provided an update about the ongoing investigation of an unexplained illness affecting birds in Kentucky and elsewhere. It also expanded the list of counties where it encourages the public to stop feeding birds.

Wildlife agencies in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky started receiving reports in late May of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs. More recently, additional reports have been received from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

The majority of affected birds are reported to be juvenile common grackles, blue jays, European starlings and American robins, but other species of songbirds have been reported as well. No definitive cause of illness or death has been determined at this time. Also, no human health, domestic livestock or poultry issues have been reported.

"We want to reassure the public that wildlife health experts from multiple states are working together to investigate what might be causing this illness," said Dr. Christine Casey, wildlife veterinarian with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has received more than 1,400 reports of sick or dying birds to its online reporting system since the portal went live June 17. Staff are carefully reviewing each report and believe approximately 250 are related to the unexplained illness. Several bird deaths reported were due to normal causes of mortality. Other reports have contained limited information and are inconclusive.

Based on its analysis, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife on July 2 expanded the list of counties where residents are encouraged to stop feeding birds and follow other statewide guidance. The list now includes six counties with Bullitt, Campbell and Madison counties joining Boone, Jefferson and Kenton counties.

"If you live in surrounding counties, it may also be a good idea to take down your feeders until further notice," said Kate Slankard, avian biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. "Food is plentiful for wild birds this time of year, so taking down feeders will not negatively affect populations."

The wildlife and natural resource agencies in the affected states and the District of Columbia, along with the National Park Service, are continuing to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause of this event. Those laboratories include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program and the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.

The following pathogens have not been detected in any birds tested, based on results received to date: Salmonella and Chlamydia (bacterial pathogens); avian influenza virus, West Nile virus and other flaviviruses, Newcastle disease virus and other paramyxoviruses, herpesviruses and poxviruses; and Trichomonas parasites. Transmission electron microscopy and additional diagnostic tests, including microbiology, virology, parasitology, and toxicology are ongoing.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has sent more than 40 samples for lab testing to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia. Results are pending.

Birds congregating at bird feeders and birdbaths can transmit diseases to one another.

Therefore, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife recommends the public follow these guidelines:

In Boone, Bullitt, Campbell, Jefferson, Kenton and Madison counties:

  • Cease feeding birds until further notice (when this issue has been resolved);

Statewide:

  • Clean feeders and birdbaths with a 10-percent bleach solution (one-part bleach mixed with nine parts water), rinse with water and allow to air dry; 
  • Avoid handling birds unless necessary. If you do handle them, wear disposable gloves. If picking up a dead bird, place an inverted plastic bag over your hand to avoid direct contact with the bird; and 
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds as a standard precaution. 

Report Encounters with Sick or Dead Birds to KY Fish and Wildlife:

www.research.net/r/2021KYSickBirdReports

If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag and dispose of the bag in a secured outdoor trash receptacle or bury them deeply in the ground.

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