Residents in more Kentucky counties have been asked to remove bird feeders as wildlife officials investigate bird deaths due to a mysterious condition.
The Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources expanded the list of affected counties and revealed findings so far from residents’ reports about sick birds.
According to the department’s wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Christine Casey, the online form Kentuckians can use to report sick or dead birds received about 1,400 submissions as of July 2.
Some 250 of the reports were consistent with symptoms related to the mortality event. She said the other submissions are either inconclusive or feature “normal mortality” unrelated to the event.
Reports of affected bird sightings have also come from other states, including Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, Casey said.
She said the symptoms seem to remain consistent among affected birds: crusty discharge and swelling of the eye area, as well as neurological signs, such as rapid eye activity and uncoordinated movements. The bird varieties most impacted include blue jays, common grackles, European starlings and American robins, Casey said.
The condition seems to affect more juvenile birds than adults. However, no effects on humans, livestock or poultry have been reported.
Kentucky Fish & Wildlife has been working with the University of Georgia’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, sending around 40 samples of bird carcasses for analysis, but Casey said those results are still pending.
Although Casey said there is still no definitive cause for the event, on July 2, the nine affected states collaboratively released a list of pathogens that have not been detected and can be ruled out. These include Salmonella and Chlamydia, avian flu, West Nile virus, Newcastle disease virus and Trichomonas parasites. Monitoring and testing continue.
What Kentuckians can do to help
Based on findings from the online reporting form, Fish & Wildlife asked residents of Bullitt, Campbell and Madison counties to join those in Jefferson, Boone and Kenton counties in removing bird feeders until further notice, Casey said.
Additionally, she said residents of surrounding counties can do the same, although that is not required.
“This is just a precaution — we don’t have any updates in terms of what is actually causing this,” Casey said. “But at the same time … we’re recommending as a precautionary step, taking down the feeders because feeders do congregate animals and can increase the transmission of pathogens in general. And so, it’s a possibility that it could be spreading that way; we just want to cover all our bases.”
Kate Slankard, a Fish & Wildlife avian biologist, said, “Food is plentiful for wild birds this time of year, so taking down feeders will not negatively affect populations.”
The department urged Kentuckians in other counties to clean their birdbaths and feeders with a 10 percent bleach solution.
Good hygiene is also important. Casey said to avoid touching dead birds when possible, but wear protective gloves and wash hands when moving them is necessary. She also said to keep pets and livestock away from dead birds.
Additionally, Casey said Kentuckians can still report sightings of ill or dead birds using the online form, and she recommended including photos of the bird with the submission to help determine whether or not it is one of the affected.
“The pictures have been worth 1,000 words,” she said.