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Florida Officials Watching For Illness Killing Songbirds In Other Parts Of U.S.

a bright blue bird perches itself on a thin twig attached to a tree stump and stares directly at the camera with its dark black eye
'Eastern Bluebird' by William Baldridge
Audubon Photography Awards
The Eastern bluebird, often seen perched on wires or fences in fields and open woodlands throughout central and north Florida, is one of the species of songbirds affected by the illness.

A mysterious illness is killing songbirds in the Southeast and Midwest regions of the United States. Florida wildlife officials have not received any related reports.

Wildlife agencies across the country are receiving accounts of mysterious songbird deaths.

Reports first emerged in Washington, D.C. in late May, and have since spread to Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.

State officials say no infections have been found in Florida, but they are watching out for it.

“We are not currently seeing this illness,” a representative from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wrote in an email. “FWC is monitoring for similar events in Florida.”

Affected songbirds show symptoms including crusty and swollen eyes, blindness, seizures, impaired balance, and reluctance to flee when approached.

Several labs across the country are testing the dead birds to find out what is killing them. Researchers have said that the geographical span of the illness makes it difficult to pinpoint a single cause.

It also affects many species, including the blue jay, European starling, common grackle, American robin, northern cardinal, house finch, house sparrow, Eastern bluebird, red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina chickadee, and Carolina wren.

The biological diversity of the hosts poses additional challenges to researchers, though they say this outbreak is not related to salmonella poisoning of finches reported earlier this year.

Federal and local wildlife officials are asking people to stop filling bird feeders and baths, as birds can transmit diseases to one another when they congregate.

“I have advised folks who have asked me as individuals what they should do about their feeders and bird baths to stop feeding birds and clean their feeders and bird baths with bleach until the scientists learn more,” Ann Paul, president of the Tampa Audubon Society wrote in an email.

FWC officials add that anyone who finds a sick or dead bird should avoid handling it, keep pets away, and submit a digital report.

Jacob Wentz is the inaugural WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for the summer of 2021.
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