PA Game Commission Lifts Recommendation to Cease Feeding Birds

Song BirdImage via Game Commission

HARRISBURG, PA – With decreasing reports of sick and dead wild birds, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced its decision to lift the recommendation to cease feeding birds.

Much is still unknown about what caused the mortality event documented in Washington D.C. and at least 10 states, including Pennsylvania, since late May. No definitive cause of illness or death has been determined. But research has ruled out many potential causes and there is no indication that feeding birds or maintaining birdbaths were contributing factors.

No human health or domestic animal (livestock, poultry, pets) issues have been documented.

While the issue appears to be resolving on its own, the response has highlighted how much the Game Commission and other wildlife agencies rely on the greater community. “The public plays a vital role in wildlife health surveillance”, said Game Commission Wildlife Veterinarian Andrew Di Salvo. “They are often the first to notice and report injured, sick, or dead wildlife. All those extra sets of eyes and ears enables us to respond as quickly as possible and resolve or investigate the situation. We certainly appreciate their vigilance and look forward to continue to work closely with them into the future.”

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Natural resource management agencies in the affected jurisdictions continue to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause(s) of this event. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program, the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, and multiple state labs have been involved.

Based on results received to date, the following pathogens have not been detected in any of the birds tested: Salmonella and Chlamydia (bacteria); avian influenza virus, West Nile virus, coronaviruses, Newcastle disease virus, herpesviruses, and poxviruses; and Trichomonas parasites. Toxicology tests have been negative for heavy metals along with common pesticides and herbicides. Transmission electron microscopy and additional diagnostic tests, including metagenomics work, are ongoing.

Because birds congregate at bird feeders and baths, the standard recommendation to keep that equipment clean remains in place, along with additional guidelines:

  • Clean feeders and birdbaths with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10% household bleach solution. After allowing 10 minutes of contact time, rinse with clean water and allow to air dry. Cleaning and disinfection should be done at a minimum weekly basis or more frequently when soiled to prevent the potential spread of any infectious diseases between birds and other wildlife, as well as remove spoiled food.
  • When feeding birds, follow expert recommendations such as those listed in Audubon International’s Guide to Bird Feeding.
  • Remain vigilant and report any sick or dead wild birds to your local Pennsylvania Game Commission office.
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead wild birds.
  • Avoid handling wild birds. If you must do so, wear disposable gloves or use inverted plastic bags on your hands to avoid direct contact. Dead birds can be disposed of in a closed plastic bag in household trash or buried deeply (> 3 ft.) to prevent disease transmission to other animals.
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The Pennsylvania Game Commission states that wildlife disease investigations can be inherently challenging and sometimes do not identify the conclusive cause(s). If additional guidance or significant diagnostic results come to light, that information will be shared with the public in a timely manner.

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