Unknown illness affecting songbirds so far undetected in New Hampshire

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This bird was found in the Washington, D.C. metro region with swollen eyes and crusty discharge. Photo courtesy of Leslie Frattaroli, NPS.

CONCORD, NH – The US Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center recently released a statement confirming the presence of sick or dying birds in groups of mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. No conclusive causes of either illness or death have been determined. State wildlife agencies including New Hampshire Fish and Game are working collaboratively with diagnostic laboratories, federal agencies, and other partners to track reports of the disease and bird mortality.

Symptoms consistent with this ongoing disease event include crusting, swelling, discharge of the eyes and/or neurologic symptoms such as head tilt, rapid eye movement, impaired vision, lack of coordination, and the inability to fly. To date, the majority of affected birds include fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, and American robins, but other species of songbirds have been reported as well.

According to the USGS report, no human health or domestic livestock and poultry issues have been reported.

No signs of this unknown illness have been detected in New Hampshire but residents are asked to take precautions to prevent it spreading in case it does appear. Birds congregating at bird feeders and bird baths can transmit diseases to one another. Therefore, the USGS and state wildlife agencies including New Hampshire Fish and Game recommend the following standard precautions:

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife morbidity/mortality event subsides.
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10 percent 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.

The NH Fish and Game Department is collaborating with the University of New Hampshire’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and other partners to track reports of this emergent bird disease in New Hampshire and conduct diagnostic testing. If you observe sick or dead birds with symptoms consistent with this new disease in the Granite State, please report the incident to New Hampshire Fish and Game by visiting https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/nongame/index.html or contact the Wildlife Division at 603-271-2461 or wildlife@wildlife.nh.gov. Additional information will be made available as diagnostic results are received.