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WI biologists offer tips to prevent spread of mystery bird illness

Experts recommend cleaning or removing bird feeders and baths from your backyard.
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 5:24 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2021 at 6:28 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A mystery illness is making birds sick across the country. According to the Wisconsin DNR, this illness has been reported in Midwest states like Indiana and Ohio.

The symptoms include swollen and crusty eyes and neurological side effects like seizures and lack of coordination.

So far, the illness has not been linked to any bird mortalities in Wisconsin and local bird enthusiasts want to keep it that way.

Matt Reetz, the Executive Director of the Madison Audubon Society, says folks should asses the cleanliness of the bird feeders and baths in their backyards.

“We’re basically asking our birds to socially distance naturally and providing feeders draws them in past that social distance level,” said Reetz. “This is out of an abundance of caution. We really want to protect our birds.”

He has removed both the feeders and baths from his yard altogether.

“We had to make this recommendation, which we feel is conservative, but it really gives the birds the best chance of not getting sick in Wisconsin,” said Reetz.

Stanley Temple, a UW-Madison Professor Emeritus of Wildlife Ecology, says summer illnesses in birds are not uncommon.

“These kind of late summer die-offs in bird populations are actually quite normal,” said Temple.

He says it’s the cause and magnitude of this particular illness that is alerting local ornithologists.

“It’s still a bit of a mystery about what is causing the die-off,” said Temple. “It’s not particularly surprising that it’s happening.”

Both Temple and Reetz say more people have become interested in bird feeding during the pandemic.

“A lot of people actually turned to birds in this last year as a source of respite and joy,” said Reetz.

Temple says Wisconsin is a bird-loving state.

“Wisconsin and Madison have a higher percentage of households feeding birds than elsewhere in the country,” said Temple. “People are just more in tune with keeping their bird feeders filled and watching what’s happening because they’ve been doing it for a year.”

Fortunately, ornithologists have ruled out any chance that the illness is transferable to humans.

MYSTERY BIRD ILLNESS: The Madison Audubon is recommending people take down their bird feeders and bird baths to stop the illness from reaching Wisconsin. Story tonight on NBC15.

Posted by Gabriella Rusk NBC15 on Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Madison Audubon Society is sharing tips for ways to keep the illness from spreading within bird populations.

  • Take down all bird feeders until this wildlife disease subsides. This includes all feeder types, including hummingbird, suet, and others. Once more is known about the illness, we will update our recommendations.
  • 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. Do not rehang feeders, even when empty.
  • Use your best discretion on whether to provide a bird bath. Summer weather is hot and birds need water, but baths are also a gathering location. If you keep your bird bath out, clean it daily with a 10% bleach solution, air dry, and refill with clean, fresh water.

For more information, click HERE.

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