Sick and dying songbirds now found in 69 counties across Indiana; cause still unknown

London Gibson
Indianapolis Star

Sick and dying songbirds have now been found in 69 counties across Indiana, up from 53 two weeks ago. That is now three-quarters of the state's counties. 

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources continues to investigate the issue and possible causes, and could not provide information as to when results might be ready.

The sick songbirds were first found in Monroe County in late May.

Since then, hundreds of other birds with similar symptoms have been reported in 68 other counties in all four corners of the state, including Marion County and those bordering it: Hamilton, Hancock, Shelby, Johnson, Morgan, Hendricks and Boone counties. Sick songbirds have also been found in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

For a list of all counties where the songbirds have been found, check the DNR's website here. 

The birds show symptoms of neurological illness, such as eye swelling and crusty discharge around the eyes. Some have also been lethargic and weak, stumbled or had tremors.

Songbirds such as American robins, blue jays, grackles, starlings, and sparrows appear to be those that are primarily affected. Brown-headed cowbirds, European starlings, house finches, northern cardinals, red-headed woodpeckers and wrens have also been found sick.

Sick songbirds:Experts still don't know why songbirds are dying across Indiana. Here's what we know

The DNR is just over three weeks into their investigation, and has sent several samples to the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for testing. 

Although final results of these tests are still pending, they have returned negative for West Nile virus and avian influenza, as well as for flaviviruses, salmonella, chlamydia, Newcastle disease virus, herpesviruses, poxviruses and Trichomanas parasites. 

A wild blue jay comes in for some feed left outside of the For the Birds of Indiana rehabilitation facility in Westfield, Tuesday, June 4, 2019.

To help mitigate the issue, the DNR is asking that all Hoosiers bring in their bird feeders, including humming bird feeders, and stop spreading seed on the ground. 

Removing these bird feeders will not harm wild songbird populations, DNR ornithologist Allisyn Gillet said. But it will help prevent the transmitting of an infection as birds congregate or share the same feeder. 

If you have a bird feeder or bird bath in your backyard, you should also clean it with a 10% bleach solution. Avoid touching sick or dying birds, and report any found to the DNR online at on.IN.gov/sickwildlife. If you need to touch the bird, use disposable gloves and dispose of the bird in a plastic bag.

Contact IndyStar reporter London Gibson at 317-419-1912 or lbgibson@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @londongibson

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IndyStar's environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.