What’s being described as a “mysterious illness” is putting some area bird populations at major risk. Now, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is asking the public to take some steps that may ruffle some feathers but could help in the long-run.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is investigating more than 70 reports of songbirds that are sick or dying due to the mysterious health condition. Common symptoms include discharge or crusting around the eyes, eye lesions, and neurological signs such as falling over or head tremors.
“We’re not even sure if we’re looking for something biological. It could be a toxin. Probably something biological, but we don’t know,” Mike Butler, who is a biology professor at Lafayette College, tells 69 News.
Butler says one thing that could be beneficial to the scientific community is that bird watching is a multi-billion dollar a year industry; which helps to give us a well-developed sense of our feathered friends.
“When we do see those population changes, people notice them, and that’s a really big benefit because we’re going to catch that information. As opposed to some other species, it would be a lot harder to even know something is happening until it’s too late,” Butler says.
So far in Pennsylvania, there have been reports of the illness in 27 counties – including Bucks, Montgomery, Lancaster and Schuylkill. There have been similar reports in several other states, and affected birds were first reported in and around Washington, D.C. 12 species have been affected so far, including blue jays, American robins, and northern cardinals.
In addition to reporting birds with relative symptoms or that have been found dead, people are being asked to stop using bird feeders and bird baths.
“At this point, being prudent is helpful,” Butler says. “So, as much as I like feeding birds, it’s probably time to bring those bird feeders in until we kind of know what the disease is doing and how it’s spread.”