You may be aware from the media that there is a current situation with unexplained bird sickness and mortality in the Northern Virginia area. Reports of large numbers of birds appearing to be sick or found dead have been expanding. The National Wildlife Health Center issued a statement on this developing situation and has offered guidance.

Our Extension Wildlife Specialist has let us in VCE know that scientists do not yet have an explanation, but efforts to determine the cause have been ramped up. Representatives from the Virginia Department of Wildife Resources are asking for help in detecting any cases of sickness or mortality in birds anywhere in Virginia. If you observe birds in Virginia that appear sick or have recently died, please report them to the DWR reporting form online.

The four recommendations from the National Wildlife Health Center are for people in the outbreak area to:
  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded;
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution;
  • Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary; and
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

If you are in a position to answer questions from the public about what they can/should do, you are asked to pass along all four of those recommendations as presented, so that it is a unified and consistent message. You can also refer people to the full interagency statement and encourage them to use that DWR reporting form. Although the focal area is the greater D.C. and Northern Virginia area, the situation is evolving, so following these recommendations anywhere in the state makes good sense.

There is no need to panic. These recommendations are simple precautions to take at this time while we wait for information about what is causing the deaths and what threats it may present.

The reporting of sick or dying birds is not part of a monitoring protocol for volunteers, but rather just an ad hoc activity that is only relevant if you actually happen to observe them. For that reason, we aren't setting this up as a separate VMN project statewide, but I do want to get the word out to VMNs. You all are great eyes and ears on nature, and you are also people who could be asked questions on this topic by the public, so I want you to have the information that I have. Please share the info with others in your chapters.

Thank you!
Michelle Prysby
Virginia Master Naturalist Program Director