Skip to Main Content

Cause of summer songbird deaths remains unknown

In early August, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced residents in 76 countries around the state could safely return their birdfeeders and baths to their yards. Earlier in the summer, DNR advised residents in all counties to remove them due to a mystery illness causing fatalities in the state’s songbird population. Since Experts and state officials did not know what the disease was or how it was spread, this was recommended as a precautionary measure.

Months after the initial announcement regarding songbird deaths, the DNR, ornithologists and wildlife researchers still don’t know the source of this illness. Residents of Allen, Hamilton, Hendricks, Johnson, Lake, Marion, Monroe, Porter and St. Joseph counties have all been instructed to keep feeders down until further notice.

Although the illness has still not been identified, Barny Dunning, professor of forestry and natural resources (FNR), said the DNR in Indiana and other states are forming a better picture of what species the disease targets and the geographic areas where it is active.

“I have heard updates, mostly from the DC area, that the number of affected birds has been steadily declining for weeks now,” Dunning added. “The illness also seems to have mainly impacted very young birds and, of course, the breeding season is winding down and there are few younger, more susceptible birds.”

While Brood X cicadas were largely ruled out as a cause of the illness, Dunning said researchers are revisiting that theory because the course of the sickness closely mirrors the lifecycle of Brood X.

“Reports suggest that if this was an infectious disease, cases wouldn’t be descending like this,” Dunning continued.

Labs, like Purdue’s Animal Disease Diagnostics Lab, will continue testing on birds and researchers are still working to identify the source of the illness.

The symptoms of this affliction include crusty eyes or discharge from the eyes and signs of neurological distress, such as tremors or stumbling. Reports of a sick or dead bird with these symptoms should be reported to the DNR.

“Tracking the location and rate of this illness is key to unlocking its source and that strategy relies heavily on residents reporting sick birds,” Dunning said.

Featured Stories

Purdue College of Agriculture.
New "Legendary Leaders" Award Celebrates Study Abroad Leaders

Inaugurating a new College of Agriculture tradition, faculty and staff recently gathered to...

Read More
Mature open oak woodland with a diverse understory after implementing a shelterwood harvest and prescribed fire as stewardship practices.
Publication Teaches Landowners How to Support Oak-Hickory Ecosystems

Oak-hickory forests, which are comprised of a variety of different tree species, shrubs, grasses,...

Read More
A picture of the dairy judging team with their awards. Pictured from left to right are Emma Townsend, Evan Coblentz, Jackie Mudd, and Alaina Weaver.
Purdue Dairy Judging Team garners success at recent contest

The Purdue Dairy Judging Team competed in the Western National Collegiate Dairy Judging Contest....

Read More
Professor works in lab at Purdue
Purdue-led fishing expedition nets new pupfish family member in New Mexico

Scientists have identified a new member on the genetic family tree of an endangered pupfish...

Read More
pots of spruce and other native trees sit in the bed of a wooden trailer behind the Grounds Department Truck
Thousands of trees, hundreds of volunteers, five years and one giant leap for the Purdue Arboretum

The clayey Indiana soil, still saturated from the last spring shower, squishes under shovels. The...

Read More
Alex Dudley holds a black vulture; Alex is pictured through a hole in a rock formation; Alex holds her camera in front of a forested mountain landscape.
Meet FNR Outstanding Senior Alex Dudley

From her research on black vulture ecology in the Zollner lab and on digital forestry under Dr....

Read More
To Top