If you live near bear country like the Adirondacks and Catskills, it's not unusual to hear the suggestion to take down bird feeders. Now all Central New Yorkers are encouraged to take down feeders, bird baths, and anything attracting birds. The suggestion comes from the state Audubon Society, so it must be serious.

For the last few months numerous birds have been dying from an unknown illness all along the East Coast. Researchers have ruled out some diseases, but they can't specify what is killing an inordinate number of blue jays, common grackles, European starlings and robins.

In April, scores of birds in the greater Washington, D.C., area began displaying strange symptoms. Their eyes were swollen and crusty; some became disoriented, started twitching, and died.

Each month more and more states are reporting the unusual deaths. In May the list grew to include; Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia; thirty days later, Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania filed similar findings. New York has yet to report any birds illnesses, but with the disease knocking on the door of neighboring states, it's just a question of time.

Several state and federal agencies are working together to unravel the mystery. David Curson, director of bird conservation at Audubon Mid-Atlantic, says taking down bird feeders seems to be help in some of the infected states.

When birds congregate in one place, it increases their chances of spreading disease. The birds that have been seeing the symptoms are birds that tend to come to feeders.

Here are suggestions and precautions from the bird experts:

  • 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
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds as a standard precaution.

If you find dead or sick birds contact a wildlife conservation agency, like the New York's DEC or the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Proper disposal of a dead bird is important too, place it in a plastic bag, seal and discard with household trash or bury them deeply. Read more on the story at the Audubon Society's website.

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