In the spring and summer of 2021, the public reported many deaths in young songbirds—common grackles, American robins, blue jays, and other species—in the mid-Atlantic states. It was thought to be a new disease, or syndrome. Birds had swollen crusty eyes and/or an inability to hop or fly. Scientists at several regional laboratories have not been able to find a common disease agent or toxin that is the same for these bird deaths. They have ruled out many likely possibilities however, including: West Nile Virus, finch conjunctivitis, Avian Influenza, SARS-CoV-2 (virus that causes COVID-19 in humans), Newcastle Disease, various fungi, bacteria, parasites and viruses, and common toxins—including many pesticides.
So far, DEC has not documented any fledgling or adult birds in New York that fit the profile of this illness. We have received increased numbers of dead bird reports due to widespread media coverage, increased public awareness, and our own recommendations to report any suspicious bird deaths. Dead bird reports in the states where the illness was initially found have now decreased.
We will continue to monitor our bird populations for signs of the illness and to stay informed on the status in other nearby states. For updates on this bird illness please visit DEC’s animal diseases webpage or Cornell’s Wildlife Health Lab webpage.
Blue jay photo by Ryan Marcum/Almanack file photo