A mysterious illness is killing hundreds of young starlings, blue jays, grackles and other birds in the eastern U.S. Scientists have ruled out common culprits of bird die-offs, including Salmonella and Chlamydia. However, the actual cause is still unknown.
This mysterious illness was first reported in Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and Maryland in May but has become much more widespread in the past two months.
Jennifer Toussaint, chief of animal control in Arlington, Virginia was delivered with four baby blue jay fledglings by the worried residents. She said “Each was plump, indicating “their parents had done a great job caring for them, but the birds were lethargic, unable to keep their balance, and blinded by crusty, oozing patches that had grown over their eyes.”
Toussaint and her staff soon reached a gloomy diagnosis: the jays were the latest victims of a mysterious deadly disease that had emerged in their area just a few weeks earlier and had already killed countless wild birds. There was no known treatment, so they euthanized the jays.
Several of the deceased birds have been sent to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) for testing. Now, the DWR is working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which has enlisted the help of several diagnostic laboratories to try to diagnose the disease.
Though at this time, there is no evidence that this illness is transmissible to humans, the USGS and state agencies recommend a feathered form of social distancing in areas where the illness has been reported.