Though we still don’t know what’s causing a mysterious illness in songbirds, the state said residents in most Indiana counties can fill their bird feeders and baths again. But the Department of Natural Resources has asked 16 counties to keep feeders down while the investigation continues.
That includes Allen, Carroll, Clark, Floyd, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Johnson, Lake, Marion, Monroe, Morgan, Porter, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, and Whitley counties.
Amy Kearns is the assistant state ornithologist for the DNR.
“It seems as though it's localized at this point. We are getting a lot of reports from certain clustered areas and we're not getting very many reports from other areas," she said.
Though more than 70 counties can resume bird feeding, the DNR asks residents to clean their feeders once every two weeks.
“A soapy water scrub followed by a 10 percent bleach soak and then a very thorough rinsing and drying before they are put out to refill for the wild birds," Kearns explained.
Hummingbird feeders should be washed in the same way once a week. Kearns said, especially in the summer, birds don't need bird seed in a feeder to survive.
"We just do that because we enjoy seeing them. And so if we do enjoy seeing the birds — and we want to feed them for our own enjoyment — that's where it's really important to then accept that responsibility to make sure that the feeders are clean, so that we don't cause any harm to the birds," she said.
The DNR has found more than 500 cases of the unknown disease in Indiana. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center is investigating outbreaks of the disease in the U.S.
Kearns said the center has ruled out some possible causes of songbird deaths including avian flu, West Nile virus, salmonella, chlamydia, Newcastle disease, and some other viruses and parasites.
Birds with the disease have symptoms like crusty eyes, eye discharge, and sometimes neurological issues — resulting in tremors or odd behavior.
If you see a bird with those symptoms or a dead bird, report it to the DNR. Kearns said anyone who has sick or dead birds on their property should bring their bird feeders in to stop the spread of the disease.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.