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Songbird Deaths

DNR has lifted its recommendation for Indiana residents to refrain from feeding birds in all counties.

Residents throughout Indiana may again put out their bird feeders if they are comfortable doing so and are not observing sick or dead birds in their yard. Seed and suet feeders should be cleaned at least once every two weeks by scrubbing feeders with soap and water, followed by a short soak in a 10% bleach solution to keep birds healthy and limit the spread of disease. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned at least once a week with a 10% bleach solution and rinsed thoroughly.

Background

  • In late May, DNR started receiving reports of sick and dying birds from Monroe County with neurological signs, eye swelling, and crusty discharge around the eyes.
  • In early summer, DNR recommended a statewide moratorium on bird feeding to slow the spread of the undetermined illness - given the possibility that the disease was caused by an infectious agent.
  • Thanks to Hoosiers, DNR received more than 4,300 reports of sick or dead birds. Of these reports, DNR biologists identified more than 750 possible cases in 76 counties involving a very specific set of clinical signs (crusty eyes, eye discharge, and/or neurological issues).
  • Multiple bird species have been reported as affected, including American robin, blue jay, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, European starling, various species of sparrows and finches, and northern cardinal.
  • DNR staff collected samples and submitted them to the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory earlier in the summer. DNR received final laboratory diagnostic results which ruled out common bird diseases like avian influenza and West Nile virus.
  • The cause of this disease is unknown and it is possible it may never be determined. Wildlife disease events are often related to several interacting causes consisting of a pathogen, the environment, and the health of the host. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center and other researchers are continuing the investigation with existing samples and data, but unless the event repeats, it is unlikely they will be able to identify a cause in the short-term.
  • All birds have tested negative for avian influenza, West Nile virus, and other flaviviruses, Salmonella and Chlamydia (bacterial pathogens), Newcastle disease virus and other paramyxoviruses, herpesviruses and poxviruses, and Trichomonas parasites.

In early September, biologists determined bird deaths associated with the disease outbreak had significantly declined. The disease event did not result in an imminent threat to people, the population of specific bird species, or to the overall population of birds in Indiana.

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Page updated 9/10/2021

Questions & Answers

  • What are the signs/symptoms of this disease?
    House Finch with swollen eyes

    House Finch with swollen eyes

    Sick Blue Jay

    Blue Jay with crusty eyes

    European Starling with neurological
  problems

    European Starling
    with neurological problems

    • Eye swelling, crusty/gummy/closed eyes, head swelling
    • Neurological signs (e.g., tremors, stumbling, weakness, lethargy)
  • What precautions should Indiana residents take?
    • Indiana residents who see sick or dead birds should:
      • Report it to DNR’s sick or dead wildlife reporting system.
      • Cease feeding birds until sick or dead birds are no longer present.
      • Feeders, bird baths, or other sources that encourage the congregation of wild birds should be taken down or discontinued. Limiting crowding can help limit the spread of disease.
      • Clean birdfeeders and bird baths with 10% bleach solution and store until sick or dead birds are no longer present.
      • Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary
      • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead birds as a precaution.
    • Sick wildlife can be taken to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator.
    • When removing dead birds, wear disposable gloves and place birds in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash.
    • Please note: Seed and suet feeders should be regularly cleaned at least once every two weeks, and hummingbird feeders should be cleaned at least once a week to keep birds healthy year-round.