Mystery Bird Blindness

A mystery disease that appeared without warning and which led to blindness in birds is starting to dissipate. Affected birds were found in Washington, D.C, Kentucky, Maryland, and West Virginia towards the end of May this year but some birds were also found in Ohio. Birds’ eyes were covered with a film, and crusted discharge, and neurological symptoms were present. Although alert, the heads of birds appeared bent towards the ground and flight was impossible. European starlings, blue jays and grackles were commonly affected.

The disease increased dramatically during May and June and over 400 birds are thought to have died with visible signs of the disease. Rescued birds were sent to rehabilitation centres but without an understanding of the disease or appropriate treatment, they were often euthanised. To date, the cause of the disease is still unknown but research has ruled out avian influenza, trichomonas parasites, and chlamydia as well as some others. There may be a link between the dead birds and the emergence of Brood X 17-year old cicadas but there is no substance to this as yet. At the time of writing, only a few sick birds a day are being received at the Ohio Wildlife Centre.

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