scientists are grappling with a mystifying disease killing thousands of birds across the U.S. South and Midwest.
scientists are grappling with a mystifying disease killing thousands of birds across the U.S. South and Midwest.
OHIO/NATION — In 1962, Rachel Carson, an aquatic biologist and editor-in-chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, penned Silent Spring. In the best-selling book, Carson warned of the detrimental effects of modern human behavior on the natural environment as a whole, and birds in specific.

Nearly 70 years later, scientists are grappling with a mystifying disease killing thousands of birds across the U.S. South and Midwest. While the first known cases were reported in mid-May in the area of Washington, D.C., the disease has since spread to more than ten states, including Ohio.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, the disease primarily affects a handful of songbird species — blue jays, common grackles, European starlings, American robins, and house sparrows. The affected birds exhibit crusty, bulging, or sunken eyes, are lethargic, and often are unable to fly or even stand.

As to the cause, scientists remain unsure. According to ODNR’s Division of Wildlife, no potential cause has been ruled out.

“We’re still not sure what’s going on,” Putnam County Wildlife Officer Jason Porinchok said on Monday. “We are working with wildlife rehabbers, like Back to the Wild and Nature’s Nursery, to get the freshest samples they can possibly get to test.”

While in Ohio the disease appears primarily limited, for the moment, to ten southern and central counties — Brown, Butler, Clark, Clermont, Delaware, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Montgomery, and Warren — Wildlife Officers across the state are on alert. That heightened level of awareness could potentially have widened the number and type of avian species affected.

According to Porinchok, a rash of dead water fowl is under investigation in three northern Ohio counties — Erie, Ottawa, and Huron. Porinchok reports at least 15 mallards and 20 Canada geese were discovered dead or dying in early July in those three counties. One bird, a goose, was euthanized and shipped to the National Wildlife Center for testing on July 7.

“We are awaiting test results right now,” Porinchok said. “This may be something different. It may be the same. The birds are often found lethargic, unable to use their legs, and they appear to drown when they’re floating in the water.”

To address the as yet unidentified disease affecting songbirds, the ODNR, in keeping with recommendations proposed by the U.S. Geological Survey, has issued a request to Ohio residents intended to curb its spread.

“There are no reports in the county that could possibly be (this disease),” Porinchok advised. “But we are recommending that everybody take down their bird feeders and baths, clear them out, and clean them with a 10% bleach solution.”

In addition, it’s recommended that, once down, the feeders and baths are kept down, at least for the time being.

“If you clean them, you’re going to obviously get rid of whatever might have been on them,” Porinchok said. “But then, if you put them back up and an infected bird comes, then you’re just going to have problems. Feeding them is not necessary. This time of year, there’s plenty of food for them.”

In addition, Ohio residents who find a living bird with any of the aforementioned symptoms and/or neurological disorders should contact their nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator. When a dead bird is found with crusty, bulging, or sunken eyes, the ODNR requests it be reported at Under the Species drop-down menu in the Sighting Information box, select Bird - Diseased or Dead, and provide as much specific information as possible, including photos or video when available.

To dispose of dead birds, Porinchok recommended double-bagging the animal, then either burying it, or placing it in the trash for disposal at a licensed landfill. After handling, thoroughly wash hands, in keeping with established disease prevenOVERSET FOLLOWS:tion practices.