No firm cause found yet for deaths of birds in DC area

Scientists still don’t know what’s causing a “bird mortality event” in the D.C. area as well as seven other states, but they know a few things that aren’t.

In a joint statement, agencies from D.C. and at least nine states said that no definitive cause for the deaths of the birds has been found yet. The good news is, there haven’t been any reports of people or pets getting sick from the birds.

They have eliminated a few possible causes, though, including salmonella; avian influenza; West Nile virus; Newcastle disease viruses; other paramyxoviruses, herpesviruses and poxviruses; and Trichomonas parasites.

Whatever it is, it’s been killing fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, American robins and other species of songbirds in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky since late May, the statement said. More recently, reports have been coming in from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. The birds have been turning up with eye swelling and crusty discharge.

Birds don’t really do social distancing, so the wildlife agencies from all the affected states say you should stop feeding birds until the deaths subside.

Other tips:

  • 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;
  • Avoid handling birds unless necessary. If you do handle them, wear disposable gloves. If picking up a dead bird, place an inverted plastic bag over your hand to avoid direct contact with the bird; and
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

If you see a bird with the sort of symptoms mentioned above, you should contact City Wildlife if you’re in D.C. at 202-882-1000 or at

If you are in Virginia, contact the Department of Wildlife Resources.

If you’re in Maryland, you should get in touch with your local wildlife rehabilitator. You can find out who that is by calling the Department of Natural Resources in Maryland at 877-463-6497 or going to its website.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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