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Unknown Bird Illness

Last Updated 8/2/21: Encouraging Update Regarding Unknown Bird Illness | Cornell Experts Not Overly Alarmed by Mysterious Songbird Sickness 

Dear Friends, 

We know that you love your backyard birds and that you’ve been anxious for an update regarding the mysterious bird illness reported across several states this spring and summer. We’re happy to report some very encouraging news from Cornell University experts quoted in a recent article titled “Cornell Experts Not Overly Alarmed by Mysterious Songbird Sickness.” 

The article quotes Elizabeth Bunting, Senior Extension Associate at the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab as saying, “Over the course of weeks, no one was finding anything infectious. They did a lot of testing but could not come up with any disease process, and the rehabilitators were telling us they were trying antibiotics and things like that, but they did not have great effectiveness.” 

Now for the encouraging news! According to Bunting, “Information coming out of the National Wildlife Health Center and some of the other states said that the cases were declining all of a sudden. That would not be typical of an infectious disease outbreak. You wouldn’t expect an infectious disease to just spontaneously go away. The distribution of states where this spontaneously popped up was an exact match for the cicada emergence map, and it is a very strange distribution of states for this kind of outbreak.” 

Researchers will continue to monitor and study the situation, but the article says, “Bunton [sic] expressed that the outbreak should not be a cause of alarm. The diminishing outbreak does not pose any safety threats to humans, nor does it threaten the stability of the various songbird species.” 

The health and well-being of birds is our number one priority! The key to keeping birds safe is to ALWAYS keep bird feeders and bird baths clean and to follow recommendations for Responsible Bird Feeding. 

We believe that a caring, observant public, which our WBU customers most definitely are, actually helps provide valuable information in the effort to help #SaveTheSongBirds in these situations. 

We will continue share updates as they become available. Thank you for your many expressions of concern for Wild Birds Unlimited and for all you do to care for the birds in your backyard. 

We encourage you to share this information with anyone who finds joy in feeding and watching our feathered friends. 


7/28/2021: As reported in the media, there have been recent accounts of bird deaths due to unknown causes. The deceased birds were originally found in the Washington DC area this spring and have since been reported in parts of Virginia*, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

*As of July 28, 2021 the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources issued a statement announcing that reported instances of the bird illness have dropped significantly. As a result, they continue to recommend that people still discontinue bird feeding in the affected areas which include Alexandria, Arlington, Clarke, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Manassas, Prince William, Shenandoah, Warren, and Winchester. For the remainder of the state, Virginia DWR advises removing bird feeders any time multiple dead birds are observed on a property over a short period of time.

Wildlife officials are actively looking for answers. At this time, the scale of the outbreak and the cause of the bird mortalities is undetermined. Several Federal and State agencies are conducting laboratory tests and have ruled out many of the typical diseases that can impact song birds.

Because there are several unknowns, we suggest that you look to your State wildlife officials for their recommendations about feeding birds in your backyard at this time. Please report any birds you observe exhibiting swollen, crusty eyes and balance/neurological issues to your State wildlife officials.

Resources for Affected States:

At Wild Birds Unlimited we want to be part of the solution. The health and well-being of birds is our number one priority! As with past bird diseases or infections, we believe that a caring, observant public, which our WBU customers most definitely are, actually helps provide valuable information in the effort to help save the song birds in these situations.

The key is to ALWAYS be a responsible bird bird-feeding hobbyist. Keep your bird feeders and bird baths clean! Please refer to our recommendations for Responsible Bird Feeding.

We also encourage you to read this information provided by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.