CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Due to an unknown illness affecting wild birds, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources is asking people in areas where the disease has been reported to take down all bird feeders and suet feeders until further notice.

The WVDNR says wildlife managers in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. began receiving reports of sick and dying birds that had swelling and crusty discharge in their eyes, neurological signs and behavioral abnormalities.

There has not been a definitive cause of death identified yet.

Since then, reports have been made in Ohio, Deleware and Indiana, according to our sister station WCMH in Columbus, Ohio. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources officials have also said they have begun receiving similar reports and have asked people to report if they see signs of sick birds.

According to West Virginia Delegate Danny Hamrick, birds such as starlings, blue jays, robins, grackles and brown-headed cowbirds are most affected by the unidentified virus. The WVDNR says birds from Berkeley and Jefferson counties have been submitted to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) and diagnostics are pending.

In the Mountain State, most of the reports of these sick and dying birds have come from counties in the eastern panhandle, the WVDNR says.

Multiple agencies including the WVDNR, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and National Park Service are working with diagnostic laboratories to investigate what is causing the ilness. The WVDNR says those laboratories include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, SCWDS, and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.

Because of the illness and the potential for birds congregating at feeders and baths can transmit avian diseases to one another, the WV DNR asks those in outbreak areas to take the following steps to help mitigate the illness’s effect on wild birds:

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded;
  • Clean feeders and baths with hot, soapy water and disinfect with 10% bleach solution;
  • Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary; and
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

The WVDNR says those who live in areas unaffected by the outbreak may continue feeding birds, but say now would be a good opportunity to take down, repair and disinfect their bird feeders.

Officials with the WVDNR say residents in and out of the affected areas can continue to feed hummingbirds, however, they should clean the feeders with soap and water and also make sure to refresh the hummingbird food every few days.

Anyone who encounters sick or dead birds that exhibit the clinical signs of this illness should contact the WVDNR district office in their area. Residents who need to remove dead birds are asked to place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with their household trash, according to the WVDNR.

The WVDNR says they will share any additional information as they receive the diagnostic results.