News & Events

Mysterious illness affecting birds in the Mid-Atlantic

During recent weeks, there have been increasing reports of sick or dying birds in several Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. Typical symptoms of this condition are swollen or crusty eyes, and sometimes indications of neurological damage such as disorientation or the inability to stand upright. At present the cause of this illness is unknown, but tests have so far determined that it is not related to common bird diseases such as Salmonella, avian flu, or West Nile Virus. Some of the symptoms are similar to avian conjunctivitis, although the majority of birds affected thus far are larger species such as jays, starlings, robins, and grackles, rather than the finches more typically afflicted with conjunctivitis.

As of July 16, 2021, the NH Fish & Game Department reports that no signs of the illness have been found in New Hampshire so far. Although the cause and mode of spread of this illness is currently unknown, some diseases can be spread when birds come in close contact at bird feeders. NH Audubon supports the State’s recommendation to take in bird feeders as a precaution until more information is known. Birds have access to an abundance of natural food at this time of year, and will not be adversely affected if feeders are removed. The specific recommendations are:

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife morbidity/mortality event subsides.
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach mixed with nine parts water), rinse with water, and allow to air-dry.
  • Avoid handling birds unless necessary. If you do handle them, wear disposable gloves.
  • If picking up a dead bird, place an inverted plastic bag over your hand to avoid direct contact with the bird. To dispose of dead birds, place them in a plastic bag, seal, and discard with household trash or alternatively bury them deeply.
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds as a standard precaution.

If you observe sick or dead birds with symptoms consistent with this new illness in New Hampshire, please report it to NH Fish and Game by visiting https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/nongame/index.html or contact the Wildlife Division at 603-271-2461 or [email protected]

Additional Information

NH Fish & Game Press Release 7-16-21:

Unknown Illness Affecting Songbirds Undetected in New Hampshire

Statement from the US Geological Society and partners investigating the bird mortality event

Audubon Maryland-DC update

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Founded in 1914, NH Audubon’s mission is to protect New Hampshire’s natural environment for wildlife and for people. It is an independent statewide membership organization with four nature centers throughout the state. Expert educators give programs to children, families, and adults at centers and in schools. Staff biologists and volunteers conduct bird conservation efforts such as the Peregrine Falcon restoration. NH Audubon protects thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and is a voice for sound public policy on environmental issues. For information on NH Audubon, including membership, volunteering, programs, sanctuaries, and publications, call 224-9909, or visit www.nhaudubon.org.