Mysterious bird illness reported in Boone, Hamilton counties

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The Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources recommends all residents to take down their bird feeders to prevent the spread of a mysterious illness that is killing songbirds. The illness has been reported throughout the Midwest.

In late May, the IDNR started receiving reports of sick and dying songbirds in Monroe County that showed sings of neurological damage, eye swelling and discharge. The department has now reported instances of the unidentified illness in 50 counties, including in Boone and Hamilton.

The illness, which does not present signs of other illnesses that affect birds, has primarily afflicted blue jays, American robins, common grackle, starlings, northern cardinals and brown-headed cowbirds, according to the IDNR. So far, all birds with symptoms of the illness have tested negative for avian influenza and West Nile virus.

“It’s a big worry in that it’s an unknown bird illness that the birds were being taken to the rehabbers and the Indiana DNR and other DNRs between here and the East Coast,” said Jim Carpenter, CEO of Wild Birds Unlimited. “We’re really happy the DNR is (taking) action on this.”

IDNR staff have collected samples from birds that have shown signs of the illness or died from the illness. The cause and transmission of the illness is unknown. The department is working with the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center to learn more about the illness and go determine if other bird species are affected.

“From what the DNR has said, they don’t know if it’s been affecting backyard chickens,” Boone County Health Dept. Public Health Educator Claire Haughton said. “As a precaution, they are saying take down your bird feeders, take down your bird baths. Make sure you sanitize them really well, and don’t put them up for the time being because they want the birds to social distance, so to speak.

Residents are instructed to clean bird baths with a 10 percent bleach solution.

“If there’s food out, or if there’s water out, they are going to want to congregate,” Haughton said. “Now, they won’t really have a reason to gather in one place. And if they don’t have anywhere to gather, hopefully whatever this illness is will be a little bit less.”

Residents who see a sick or dead bird with the symptoms of the illness are asked to notify the IDNR by visiting survey123.arcgis.com/share/fa8ef1d71cce429ea69d07c0e2ec67f2.


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