Researchers still don’t know what killed hundreds of birds last summer

Written by on July 18, 2022

Researchers still don’t know what killed hundreds of birds last summer

By Megan Frank
July 18, 2022

People were asked to take down birdfeeders last summer in light of all the bird deaths. (Photo | Pixabay)

Around this time last summer, more than 1,000 dead birds with a mysterious illness were reported around Pennsylvania.  

This summer, researchers say the outbreak appears to have vanished, but they still don’t know what happened. 

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The sick birds were typically found trembling on the ground, and their eyes had lesions and a discharge.

Peter Saenger, ornithological specialist at the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College, says researchers have ruled out West Nile Virus, avian influenza and salmonella. 

“They’ve ruled out pesticides, a myriad of regular diseases, and they have found nothing conclusive. It is sort of scary that they couldn’t figure it out because it killed an awful lot of birds,” said Saenger.

It’s unusual for the source of such a widespread sickness to remain a mystery, Saenger said. 

One theory is that the birds may have had issues digesting a generation of cicadas that emerged last year.

“They were finding a lot of young birds filled with the exo-skeltons of cicadas. So they couldn’t ingest more food, and it was clogging their digestive tracts,” said Saenger.

People had been asked to take down bird feeders and baths but Saenger said since the illness is no longer a concern, it’s OK to feed the birds.

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