WV DNR sets guidelines about bird mortality event


ELKINS, W.Va. – Bird death rates have spiked in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. Back in May, wildlife officials started getting calls about sick and dying birds in the areas of Washington D.C., Maryland and West Virginia. Right now, they do not know the cause of death in these birds.

“So far there’s no specific one answer,” Jim Crum, wildlife biologist, said. “It may be more of a multi-factor type situation that happen to be associated with increased reproduction or food sources.” 

DNR officials said they have only seen the disease in five species; the common grackle, blue jay, European starling, American robin and northern cardinals. The DNR officials have noticed that all the affected birds are in the same age range.  

“All, or at least nearly all, of the samples that we’ve collected and sent in have been juvenile birds. They have not been adult birds,” Bailey said. “That’s not to say this wouldn’t affect adult birds, but that seems to be the case.”  

According to their investigation, all the dying birds are backyard birds that frequently visit bird baths and bird feeders. WV DNR officials said the disease could spread through feeders, so they are encouraging residents in Jefferson and Berkeley counties to take their bird feeders down.

The officials have sent some birds to disease study centers and said the diagnostics are pending.   

“Right now, we’re not terribly concerned, but that could change if we get some results that warrant additional action,” West Virginia’s Ornithologist, Richard Bailey, said.  

The symptoms from the disease include swelled and crusty eyes, neurological symptoms and behavior abnormalities.

WV DNR officials also encourage the public to stay calm about this issue, and to follow its guidelines for residents in the outbreak areas: 

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded
  • Clean feeders and baths with hot, soapy water and disinfect with 10% bleach solution
  • Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution. 

“They need to take responsibility for their hygiene of their bird feeder, and they should be cleaning those once or twice a month,” Crum said.   

Residents outside the outbreak area may continue to feed birds but are reminded that this would be a good opportunity to take down, repair and disinfect their feeders. 

“Pay close attention to cleaning your feeders, but also pay close attention to the birds in your yard and call your district DNR if you see birds that exhibit symptoms,” Bailey said.   

DNR officials said that as of right now they don’t think it’s a virus and they’ve had no reports of people getting sick from the disease.   

If you encounter sick or dead birds exhibiting the clinical signs listed above, please contact the WV DNR District Office that serves your area. If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared by WV DNR as diagnostic results are received. 

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