Experts are baffled by a strange, unidentified illness that’s killing hundreds of birds in multiple U.S. states.
Birds have been affected in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., NBC News reports.
“We have yet to figure out what the problem is,” biologist Kate Slankard of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources told NBC. “The condition seems to be pretty deadly.”
The symptoms the birds experience include swollen and crusty eyes and neurological symptoms like seizures or loss of balance. Slankard noted that birds may “just sit still, often kind of shaking.”
Species affected have included “blue jay, American robin, common grackle, Northern cardinal, European starling, and a few others,” Indiana Department of Natural Resources ornithologist Allisyn-Marie Gillet said in a statement obtained by the Evansville Courier & Press.
“This is truly scary,” Jim Monsma of D.C. wildlife rescue group City Wildlife told DCist. “We don’t don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, as it were, yet. And it’s just every day more and more birds.”
He added that the earliest symptomatic bird his organization saw was on April 11, and that as of June 15, 174 had come through the doors. Staff initially attempted to treat the birds but “they just went downhill and died no matter what,” he said. At this point, he added, the rescue group is “inundated” and is simply euthanizing affected birds “to spare them additional suffering and an inevitable death.”
In case the cause is a communicable disease, authorities are recommending certain steps to curb potential spread. The United States Geological Survey has cautioned people in outbreak areas to stop feeding birds (which can cause many birds to congregate in one place), clean bird feeders and baths with a 10% bleach solution, and keep pets away from sick or dead birds.
The agency also recommends to avoid handling sick or dead birds, and to instead contact a wildlife organization. If you must handle them, the agency states, you should use disposable gloves and place a dead bird in a sealed plastic bag.