Songbirds Are Dying Across the Eastern U.S. and Scientists Can’t Figure Out Why

A mysterious disease is making its way across the songbird population of the Eastern United States, infecting at least a dozen species of birds across nine states. Scientists can’t figure out what this bug is, but it’s killing birds. Young birds — particularly grackles, blue jays, American robins and European starlings — seem particularly vulnerable to the disease, which is characterized by crusty or swollen eyes and neurological symptoms like twitching, trembling and staggering.

Scientists have been able to rule out several known aviary diseases, but are still puzzled by this one. “The best thing that we can do is try to contain it and learn about it and see what the root cause is and that’s where we’re at right now,” Joan Walsh, the chair of natural history and field ornithology for Mass Audubon, told MetroWest Daily News. “Nobody likes to hear we don’t know, but that’s the truth.”

Bird pandemics aren’t uncommon, but this one does have scientists scratching their heads. For a while, researchers wondered if newly emerged cicadas could be the culprit, since bird populations like to feed on them. But ensuing studies have debunked that theory, and nobody’s sure what to make of it.

As of now, experts see no reason for anyone to be concerned about the bird pandemic spreading to pets or humans, but still advised people to keep their animals from investigating bird carcases and using gloves if you need to dispose of one.

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One thing you can do to help slow the mystery disease? Take your bird feeders and birdbaths inside. Researchers say these items provide a gathering place for birds to interact in close quarters, and removing them will help keep the birds “socially distanced,” if you will.

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