A mysterious illness affecting songbirds across the state has the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) asking all Hoosiers to remove their bird feeders while the investigation continues.

In late May, DNR started receiving reports of sick and dying songbirds from Monroe County with neurological signs, eye swelling, and crusty discharge around the eyes, said DNR assistant director of communications Marty Benson.

“The DNR has been testing the birds but it is not coming up with any of the normal culprits,” said Wabash County Purdue Extension director and agriculture and natural resources educator Geoff Schortgen on Tuesday.

Species that are principally affected include blue jay, American robin, common grackle, starling, northern cardinal and brown-headed cowbird.

DNR staff has collected samples and submitted them to the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. Final laboratory diagnostic results are pending. The cause or transmission is currently unknown and still under investigation.

All birds have tested negative for avian influenza and West Nile virus.

As the investigation continues, the DNR recommends all Hoosiers remove their birdfeeders, including those for hummingbirds, statewide.

Reports of sick and dying birds now include more than 40 counties, including Allen, Bartholomew, Benton, Boone, Brown, Carroll, Clark, Clinton, Decatur, Delaware, Floyd, Gibson, Greene, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Henry, Howard, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, LaPorte, Lawrence, Marion, Monroe, Morgan, Newton, Ohio, Orange, Parke, Porter, Putnam, Starke, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Union, Vanderburgh, Washington and Whitley.

Schortgen said he called the Salamonie Interpretive Center on Tuesday and was told there have not yet been reports of dead birds in Wabash or Huntington areas.

The following steps are recommended statewide by DNR:

  • Use the DNR sick or dead wildlife reporting tool at on.IN.gov/sickwildlife to alert DNR staff.
  • Stop feeding birds until the mortality event has concluded.
  • Clean feeders and baths with a 10 percent bleach solution.
  • Avoid handling birds. If you need to handle birds, wear disposable gloves.
  • When removing dead birds, wear disposable gloves and place birds and gloves in a sealable plastic bag to dispose of with household trash.
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a precaution.

On Monday, veterinarians with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) also encouraged hobby flock owners to take steps to protect their poultry, said public information director Denise Derrer.

Derrer said owners of chickens, ducks and other backyard poultry have been asking about the risk to their flocks.

“Currently, we do not know what is causing songbirds to become ill or to die,” said Indiana state veterinarian Bret D. Marsh, DVM. “We are coordinating with Indiana DNR to investigate reports of sick birds. However, laboratory testing has not yet determined if this is a disease or some other agent.”

Without specific information on the cause, poultry owners are encouraged to protect their chickens, ducks, turkeys and other domestic species from any potential exposure to wild birds.

“We always recommend good biosecurity for small flocks,” said Marsh. “When something unknown and unforeseen like this happens is when keeping flocks secure really pays off.”

Derrer said good biosecurity practices mean keeping poultry safe from unseen pathogens that can be brought into the coop by other birds, either wild or domestic; other animals, like feral cats; or humans who may carry disease-causing germs on their hands, clothing or shoes.

Deter contact with wild birds by keeping poultry in a fenced space and contain them to the coop or barn at night. Do not feed chickens outdoors where wild birds may feed, too. Clean and sanitize feed pans and waterers.

Poultry owners should also follow DNR’s recommendation to remove bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, until the situation is better understood.

Marsh said small flock owners should remain vigilant in watching their poultry for signs of illness or disease. Any unusual or unexplained death loss or illness should be reported to the US Department of Agriculture Healthy Birds Hotline by calling 866-536-7593.

For more information, visit on.IN.gov/songbirddeaths.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.