SOUTH CHARLESTON — Multiple wildlife agencies in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia are working to identify what’s causing large numbers of birds to die.
Residents in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland began receiving calls about sick and dying birds in late May. Callers told wildlife officials they had encountered birds that were sick and dying and had swollen eyes and crusty eye discharges. Others found the birds displayed signs of possible neurological damage, as well as behavioral abnormalities.
However, researchers have yet to identify a specific cause of death almost a month after the first reports were made.
Biologists with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources said the majority of the sick and dying birds have come from the state’s eastern panhandle, in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.
DNR officials submitted the birds to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, where diagnostics are pending.
The WVDNR, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and National Park Service are working together along with diagnostic labs to investigate what’s causing the bird deaths. Those laboratories include the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, SCWDS and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.
While the cause of bird deaths are unknown, researchers have determined that birds congregating at feeders and baths can transmit avian diseases to one another.
The WVDNR recommends that West Virginia residents in the outbreak area cease feeding birds until the wildlife mortality event has concluded, as well as clean bird feeders and bird baths with hot, soapy water and disinfect with 10% bleach solution.
Biologists also recommend avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary and keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.
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.
Residents may continue feeding hummingbirds but should clean feeders with soap and water, and ensure hummingbird food is fresh, every few days.
Anyone who encounters a sick or dead bird that exhibits the clinical signs listed here are asked to contact the nearest WVDNR District Office.
Residents who insist on removing dead birds are asked to place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared by WVDNR as diagnostic results are received.