Large numbers of birds are dying in Butler County and several surrounding counties for unexplained reasons, and state naturalists are asking the public to take down bird feeders and bird baths and stop feeding birds to keep the apparent disease from spreading among birds.
“There’s quite a bit that we don’t know” about why the birds are dying, said Brian Plasters, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.
The primary birds that have been dying are blue jays, common grackles, European starlings, American robins, and house sparrows.
Plasters said the diseased birds tend to have “crusty, bulging or sunken eyes, also possibly neurological issues, such as lost balance or coordination,” Plasters said.
Erica Miller of Erica Miller Wildlife Rehab in Miamisburg has cared so far for 75-100 such birds and said it began with about seven adult blue jays with the condition in about a week.
“I’ve come across all kinds of them,” which have been taken to her, Miller said. She and fellow bird rehabber Jim Tinnell of Kettering have worked together, after she tried antibiotic, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal medications, vitamins and minerals.
She has discovered that for juveniles or fledglings that are found early and treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics and treatment for their eyes, “they are making a recovery,” Miller said. “But I have not gotten a single adult to recover yet at all.”
“As for what it is?” Miller said. “Obviously, if antibiotics are taking care of it, then it’s a bacterial infection,” she said. “I was originally thinking it was some sort of fungus. And if it’s not related to the cicadas, it’s an awful huge coincidence, you know what I’m saying?”
The issue has been reported in Ohio’s counties of Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, Brown, Montgomery, Greene and Clark, in the southwest quarter of the state, plus Franklin and Delaware counties in central Ohio.
Other than Ohio, the problem has been reported in Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.
“They are testing the birds” to learn what is killing them, but “the results aren’t back yet,” Plasters said.
“We’re working closely with the Ohio Wildlife Rehabilitators and the National Wildlife Health Center,” he said.
During this period, “We’re asking everyone to stop feeding birds,” he said. “That includes taking down your feeders. Don’t throw bird feed onto the ground, because we don’t want birds gathering together, and a bird feeder is a gathering point.”
After taking down bird feeders and bird baths, it’s important to clean them well, using a 10-percent bleach solution in water before letting them air-dry.
Miller, who has taken in 1,336 animals of all kinds so far this year, said she found it interesting that she has had sick birds in areas with healthy ones, without seeing any cross-contamination among them.
People who find dead birds are asked to find help for live birds they find, or to report dead ones with the disease, through wildohio.gov.
Miller said she suspects the adults, by the time people find them, with their eye conditions and neurological problems, “they’re dying more of starvation. They’re not able to find food.”