Songbird Mortality Event – Information and Recommendations

Because of a “mortality event” affecting songbirds in the central and eastern regions of the United States, Audubon Community Nature Center, Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, Chautauqua Institution and Bird, Tree & Garden Club, Panama Rocks, and Roger Tory Peterson Institute are following the recommendation of the United States Geological Survey and have removed their bird feeders and bird baths. Until more information is available, they are encouraging others to do the same. (Photo Credit: Tamarack Wildlife Rehab Center)

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Audubon Community Nature Center

Regional nature conservation organizations are encouraging residents to join them in following the recommendation of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to stop activities that cause birds to gather. These activities include pausing all bird feeding.

In late April of 2021, reports started coming in to local and nationally based wildlife centers regarding songbirds that were exhibiting strange symptoms such as crusty eyes and shaking heads. Initially, most reports were from the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, but since then, reports have been made in a wide range of states from Florida to Pennsylvania. On July 8, an affected bird found in Erie County, Pa., was brought to the Tamarack Wildlife Rehab Center in Saegertown, Pa.

This is something that scientists commonly refer to as a “mortality event.” A “mortality event” is when a large number of animals die within a short period of time due to what appears to be a similar cause.

Affected birds may exhibit a variety of symptoms. These symptoms include crusty eyes, blindness, and headshaking. Birds may be found on the ground, disoriented, and may be unresponsive.

The bird species affected by the mortality event appear to be species typically found in yards and open spaces. These species include: fledgling Common Grackles, Blue Jays, European Starlings, and American Robins. Additional species that have been reported as being affected include Northern Cardinal, House Finch, House Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, and Carolina Wren.

However, these species are mostly found in spaces that are frequently observed by people. The widespread impact on woodland birds and birds found in other habitat areas is currently unknown.

The USGS recommends stopping all activities that cause birds to gather. These activities include pausing all bird feeding, including for hummingbirds and orioles, until this songbird mortality event is over or more information is made available.

Additional recommendations made by the USGS include cleaning all bird feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution to disinfect them. Avoiding handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary. If a dead or dying bird is discovered, dispose of it by placing it in a sealable plastic bag and discarding it with household trash. This will prevent disease transmission to other birds and wildlife. Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

Don’t panic! It is commonly known that birds do not need supplemental feed during the summer months as there is plenty of food for them to harvest from the wild. Taking down your feeders temporarily will not have a negative impact on birds.

It is always good practice to clean bird feeders regularly (more often during hot, wet weather) with a 1:10 bleach/water solution. If you do not clean your feeders regularly, now is the time to start.

In light of all of this information, Audubon Community Nature Center, Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, Chautauqua Institution and Bird, Tree & Garden Club, Panama Rocks, and Roger Tory Peterson Institute have chosen to remove their bird feeders and bird baths until more information is available and encourage others with feeders to do the same. Other regional conservation organizations including the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and the Chautauqua-Conewango Consortium support these recommendations.

For more information go to: Mysterious Bird Deaths in the Mid-Atlantic region | Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

To report the discovery of an affected bird found in New York State go to: Wildlife Health – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

To report the discovery of an affected bird found outside of New York State go to: Sick Wild Bird Report | Smithsonian’s National Zoo.