Bird ailment update: When can we feed the birds?


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(WJET) – Ohio and Pennsylvania teamed up a couple of weeks ago to warn bird lovers to hold back on filling up those feeders because of an unknown illness impacting birds.

WKBN and our sister station in Pennsylvania WJET have received phone calls and emails in recent weeks, asking when residents can feed the birds again after experts advised to take down feeders and baths on July 9. Experts say to hold off a bit longer.

“Now is not the time,” according to Carol Holmgren, executive director at the Tamarack Wildlife Center. “We are in frequent contact with our regional representative from the Wildlife Futures Program. Biologists there are advising that it’s not time yet to put back bird feeders and bird baths.”

Holmgren said the good news is the number of cases is down across the state, and the Wildlife Center has not submitted any new birds for testing. However, she said most of the current cases are coming from the south central and southeastern part of the commonwealth and the mortality rate is very high.

It started in May around Washington, D.C. and swept across Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“If people have symptomatic birds, we are happy to admit them, although typically, there’s not a good outcome,” Holmgren said. “If they don’t survive, we would submit them for testing.”

Susan A. Smith of the Presque Isle Audubon Society has worked with birds all her life. She said there are a lot of theories about this ailment that need to be explored, but the reasons experts want residents to take down their bird feeders and bird baths is very clear.

“It’s the fact that birds are congregating and spreading it amongst themselves,” Smith said. “It’s highly infectious. You have to stop attracting birds until the people who do bird research can figure out what’s going on and contain it or eradicate it.

“Bird feed is really for us to watch them,” Smith continued. “There is plenty of natural food out there for them.”

As for the mysterious disease, Holmgren said biologists are working on finding answers every day.

“Progress is being made on eliminating some possibilities, but it’s still not clear what it is,” she said.

Scott Weber, the communications liaison for Wildlife Futures, there is no new information to report at this time, but there may be an update in August.

Holmgren said the symptoms of this ailment include:

  • Swollen or crusty eyes
  • Neurologic symptoms of stumbling or inability to stand

If you do encounter a bird with these symptoms or see a large number of dead birds, you can report it online to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

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