Bird illness leads to plea to take bird feeders down

Sick Blue Jay with disease that's leading wildlife officials to urge people to remove bird...
Sick Blue Jay with disease that's leading wildlife officials to urge people to remove bird feeders.(Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources)
Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 9:27 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke is recommending people take down their bird feeders for the time being during a spreading bird illness. The goal is to prevent human-designed places for birds to gather.

Wildlife center officials say there has been a “large number of bird deaths occurring in several states such as Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia.”

No cases have been reported in Southwest Virginia, according to the wildlife center, but cases have been reported east and west of the region.

”We don’t know what type of disease this is or how it spreads, so birds congregating has a higher risk,” explains Sabrina Garvin, Executive Director of the SWVWC.

According to a wildlife center news release, “We are not sure whether this is pesticide-related, viral, fungal, or bacterial. There are many labs currently hard at work trying to figure out what’s causing this illness; however, in the meantime we ask that we put a hard stop on all bird feeders. We request that people be proactive, not reactive, until we know more.”

The most common birds affected with this illness, according to the wildlife center, are Blue Jays, American Robins, common Grackles, and Starlings. Not all birds have the same symptoms but some common ones are:


-Hold their heads with a tilt

-Have trouble balancing

-Eyes are swollen, encrusted, or have oozing discharge.

If you come across a bird with these symptoms, you’re asked to contact the Department of Wildlife Resources or the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke.

A statement from the wildlife center:

While the symptoms have not yet been reported in SW VA it has been reported in areas to our east and west. So, it is highly likely that it is already here or will come through soon. We definitely recognize we don’t know enough about the situation yet (nobody does!), but we try to base our advice on the best available evidence and guidance from multiple state and federal wildlife officials that we currently have. Majority of birds are not reliant on bird feeders right now given the time of year and can find plenty of food without human help, and we felt that preventing possible transmission altogether (removing an area where birds congregate) preemptively was safest for the birds. Based on the best evidence available and after speaking with several veterinarians and professional wildlife biologists about the issue this seems to be the general consensus right now, regardless of if it is viral, bacterial, pesticides, etc. That could change as we get new evidence! But we’re trying our best given what we’ve been told by people who study these phenomena professionally.

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