Residents are being urged to take down bird feeders and report sightings of sick or dead songbirds as a mysterious illness continues to afflict birds throughout the country.
“Since mid-May, numerous young songbirds in the mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, and the eastern upper Midwest, have been found with ocular and neurologic issues, and in some cases these birds have been found deceased in large numbers — up to 16 in one location,” an announcement from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection at the start of July stated.
An update posted Friday said preliminary testing results on three deceased birds indicate they may have been affected by the same unknown condition.
“While cases seem to be dropping in some states, we have not observed a similar trend in Connecticut,” the Wildlife Division update stated. “The DEEP Wildlife Division has received hundreds of reports of dead birds during July, most of which were not suitable for analysis. Three birds exhibiting symptoms consistent with the regional illness have been submitted to the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at UConn for testing. All three tested negative for avian Influenza, and other analyses are still pending. Preliminary results suggest that these cases match what has been reported in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.”
Symptoms that have been reported in cases outside the state include swelling and discharge around the eyes and neurological symptoms such as head tremors, difficulty or inability to stand, and excessive vocalization. The condition appears to primarily affect songbirds, including grackles, blue jays, European starlings and American robins, according to DEEP. Hummingbirds may also be affected and feeders for them should be taken down as well.
The recommendation to take down bird feeders is out of a concern that the illness could be contagious and birds congregating at feeders and bird baths could act as places where it spreads. Connecticut Audubon Society Director Patrick Comins likened those locations to shopping malls that were shut at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I know that state and federal officials are quite concerned about this, so we’re passing along the guidance ... that people should take down bird feeders and bird baths,” he said.
A letter to Audubon members said being cautious is especially important at this time of year when migratory birds will be passing through the region. Migrating birds intermixing with local populations could introduce the disease to birds that could then carry it to other continents.
“We want to help prevent it from spreading among Connecticut’s year-round resident birds; and to the birds that stop here before they fly to their Central and South American wintering areas,” the letter said.
Suspected cases should be reported to DEEP, which has been collecting specimens for pathological testing at UConn.
Comins said thus far testing of deceased birds in other states has not pointed to any known disease.
“Even though there haven't been any confirmed cases in Connecticut, we agree it’s best to err on the side of caution, especially with the risk that is posed by this situation. And if it is a contagious situation, it is something we need to watch more closely,” Comins said.
Songbirds play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling insect populations, especially ticks and biting insects. When an invasive snake species was introduced to Guam, Comins said it decimated the local songbird population and caused an explosion in the number of spiders that are predated on by birds.