Mysterious illness is killing songbirds in Ohio and surrounding states

It has not yet been detected in northwest Ohio, but people are being asked to clean their feeders.
Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 5:17 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - A mysterious illness is killing some songbirds, and the reason why is still unknown.

t’s been found in birds in Ohio and some surrounding states, but at this point, there have been no documented cases of it in northwest Ohio. Experts say despite that, there are some proactive things those of us with feeders and birdbaths need to be doing.

Laura Zitzelberger, a long-time wildlife rehabilitator and the co-founder of Nature’s Nursery, says that even though we haven’t seen cases of it locally, we shouldn’t take it lightly. She says there are a lot of unknowns about the illness, like whether it’s viral or environmental.

“We are seeing it affect their eyes,” says Zitzelberger. “Not really conjunctivitis. In some cases, it seems they are getting cataracts and having trouble seeing, and some birds are exhibiting neurologic symptoms.”

As of right now, residents of northwest Ohio are not being asked to take down feeders, but there are some simple things you need to do if you have feeders or birdbaths.

“People should be cleaning everything at least once a week,” explains Zitzelberger. “That means taking them down, scrubbing them, using a 10% bleach solution, and letting them air dry. You should be doing that even without this illness.”

Since the illness is already in parts of Ohio, it’s likely a question of when not if, we’ll see it affect songbirds here.

“We always want to stay ahead of anything like this,” says Allison Schroeder, Executive Director of Nature’s Nursery. “We are doing what we are recommending others do. Keeping things clean, monitoring the birds, and watching for symptoms. We will have a quarantine area. If we do get a case, we can react quickly. Our mission is bigger than just the animals that come in our doors. It is about wildlife in our region and beyond.”

So while a lot of us enjoy seeing nature up close, sometimes there are unintended consequences.

“When we feed birds they are coming together in higher numbers and concentrations than they normally would,” she says. “So while we’re helping them in a way, it can cause problems too. Ideally, we would all plant things that would allow the birds to feed naturally.”

If you see a bird you think may be suffering from this illness, take your feeders down. You’re also asked to contact Nature’s Nursery. If you find multiple dead birds in an area, you are also asked to call the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-WILDLIFE.

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