ODNR warns bird feeders to take a break while mysterious bird illness is investigated

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(WKBN) – Biologists are puzzled about a recent sickness affecting birds. It started in May around Washington, D.C. and is now sweeping across Ohio. The situation is also affecting bird feeders.

Birds bring many people happiness. They’re a great and simple way to connect with wildlife. Jeff Harvey, who works at Wild Birds Unlimited, has been feeding birds most of his life.

“Birds are in your backyard. It gives you something to do, something to watch. So when you hear that anything is bothering the birds, that becomes a problem,” he said.

This is an emotional time though with an illness hitting blue jays, grackles and other songbirds. The birds can get crusty or cloudy eyes and they might not be able to fly or hold their head up. A lab hasn’t figured out what’s wrong with the birds.

“We don’t know if this mysterious is contagious and it’s just unhealthy for birds to gather in large numbers in small environments around bird feeders and birdbaths, especially if they’re ill,” said Jamey Emmert, with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.

ODNR officials recommend taking a break from feeding them, saying the birds will be okay sustaining on natural food. Separating them is what’s important right now.

“Ideally, take down the bird feeder at least for a week or two in hopes that we have some updates sooner rather than later,” Emmert said. “But if that is not something someone wants to consider, at least take them down routinely and clean them as often as possible.”

Use one part bleach with 10 parts water to clean a feeder, and rinse it thoroughly before rehanging it.

Taking down a feeder is tough for bird lovers who love watching them fly around.

“We’re keeping our feeders clean. We don’t know what the cause yet is of the problem, so I’m just telling everyone clean your feeders once a week instead of twice a year like they normally would do,” Harvey said.

Throwing seed on the ground can work in small quantities but remember, it could get moldy if the ground is wet, which can make animals sick. Plus, the seed on the ground could draw pests like raccoons or possums around your home.

If you find a dead bird or see birds with crusty, swollen eyes that can’t fly or act disoriented, call 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-​3543) or go to wildohio.gov and click on Report Wildlife Sightings on the lefthand side. You can even send in a picture.

You can also call a wildlife rehabilitator. You can find them listed at owra.org.

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