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Wildlife experts urge people to take down feeders as birds fall ill

Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 3:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Sick birds are being found around the country, including in the Commonwealth, and wildlife experts don’t yet know why.

So far, the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke says there is no indication of the illness is viral, bacterial or even related to pesticides. Luckily, they haven’t seen cases in the Richmond metro area. Regardless, wildlife groups are asking people to take down bird feeders, or block off birdbaths.

“That’s an area where birds congregate, and the disease can spread faster if they’re close together,” said Chester Leonard, assistant director of the Center.

They reported a large number of bird deaths and illnesses a few months ago, and are now seeing the incidents in several states.

“It started off in the D.C. area, now we’re seeing it in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland ... it’s spreading,” Leonard said.

Experts say they can’t pinpoint what exactly is causing the deaths.

One theory floating around is that the birds are getting sick from cicadas, but the Center says other animals that feast on the insects have not come down with the same sickness.

“There’s rumors galore. We’re just waiting on lab results to figure out what’s actually causing disease, and as far as I know, there’s multiple labs in multiple states figuring out what’s going on,” said Leonard.

In Indiana, NBC affiliate WTHR reports that they have seen dead birds in at least 15 counties. The Eagle Creek Ornithology Center has tried testing the animals, but the mystery illness remains unsolved.

“This could be a disease we’re not familiar with. They have tested negative for Avian influenza and West Nile Virus,” said Will Schaust, the center’s manager.

The Center said to look out for sick or dead birds, and not to touch them, but report them to the Department of Wildlife Resources. Leonard said some of the signs of an ill bird include crusted eyes, tremors, and perhaps the inability to balance -- a sick bird may have a hard time standing up and will fall right back over.

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