Mysterious Songbird Deaths Investigated

songbirdImage by Jack Bulmer

HARRISBURG, PA — Wildlife health experts from the Wildlife Futures Program (WFP) at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) and officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission are investigating more than 70 general public reports of songbirds that are sick or dying due to an emerging health condition that is presently unknown.

As of July 1, 2021, reports from the public chronicle both adult and young birds exhibiting signs of the condition. The most common clinical symptoms include discharge and/or crusting around the eyes, eye lesions, and/or neurologic signs such as falling over or head tremors.

Affected birds are being tested for several toxins, parasites, bacterial diseases, and viral infections. To date, test results have been inconclusive.

Twelve species have been reported: Blue Jay, European Starling, Common Grackle, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, House Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, and Carolina Wren.

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In Pennsylvania, the reports have been received from 27 counties, including:

  • Philadelphia, and Bucks, Montgomery, Chester counties: 15 reports
  • Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, Schuylkill, York counties: 19 reports

Numerous reports have also been received across the United States including the Mid-Atlantic region, extending into the Southeast and eastern upper Midwest. Affected birds were first reported in and around Washington, D.C.

This is an emerging wildlife health event. Penn Vet states they will provide additional, timely information as it becomes available.

The public is encouraged to report any sightings of birds that have died and/or birds that have been seen with swollen and crusty eyes, as well as neurological signs such as stumbling and head tremors. Report the incident online at: http://www.vet.upenn.edu/research/centers-laboratories/research-initiatives/wildlife-futures-program.

Experts are also encouraging the public to follow these FIVE precautionary measures until more is known:

  • Cease feeding birds and providing water in bird baths until this wildlife mortality event has concluded to prevent potential spread between birds and to other wildlife.
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution.
  • Avoid handling dead or injured wild birds. Wear disposable gloves if it’s necessary to handle a bird.
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.
  • To dispose of dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag and discard with household trash. This will prevent disease transmission to other birds and wildlife.
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