The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is asking the public to watch for backyard birds that appear sick and report what they see.

The DNR says a mysterious illness is killing backyard birds across the Mid-Atlantic and in parts of the Southeast.

No sighting of sick birds had been documented in Georgia as of Tuesday.

Symptoms can include swelling and crusty discharge around the eyes; neurological issues such as tremors and lack of balance; partial paralysis or similar neurological conditions. Affected birds also are often lethargic, the DNR noted.

These symptoms have been observed in birds from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Kentucky and Virginia since late May, the DNR said.

To date, most of the affected birds documented have been fledgling blue jays, American robins, common grackles and European starlings, according to the DNR.

Other species of songbirds also have been reported.

The disease and its cause remains unknown. After testing, salmonella bacteria, several families of viruses and Trichomonas parasites have been ruled out.

The DNR stressed that no issues have been reported with human health or pets, livestock or poultry.

“This issue is not connected to the salmonella outbreaks and other disease flare-ups associated with the winter finch irruption that swarmed Georgia feeders with purple finches and pine siskins this spring,” the department said.

“Ailing backyard birds reported to DNR usually either involve salmonella (bacterial), aspergillosis (fungal), avian pox (viral) or mycoplasmal conjunctivitis (bacterial). Trichomoniasis, a protozoan parasite, is also a potential problem. These diseases and their spread have been associated with birds at feeders.”

Anyone who finds sick or dead birds in Georgia with the described symptoms is asked to contact DNR wildlife biologist Todd Schneider at 478-994-1438 or todd.schneider@dnr.ga.gov.

“At this point DNR is not recommending taking bird feeders down,” the department said. “If the disease is confirmed in Georgia, DNR will provide further guidance as needed.”

The state agency strongly recommends that feeders and bird baths be cleaned on a regular basis and feeding areas be maintained.

“Clean feeders weekly using a 10-percent bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water),” the DNR recommends. “Then rinse the feeders thoroughly and let them air dry. Wear protective gloves while cleaning feeders, feeding areas and bird baths, and wash carefully afterward.

“Rake up bird seed, hulls and bird droppings beneath feeders two or more times a week. It is especially important that wet seed and hulls are promptly removed. Discard them in the trash.”

The DNR also recommends that bird baths be emptied and cleaned every two days when bird visitation is heavy.

“If you have multiple feeders, space them out to reduce gatherings of birds,” the department advises.

Anyone who finds sick or dead birds at feeders in the yard should follow these guidelines:

• Avoid handling them unless necessary. If you do handle them, avoid direct contact by wearing disposable plastic/latex gloves, then wash thoroughly.

• Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds.

• Dispose of dead birds in a sealable plastic bag placed in a secured outdoor trash bin or bury them deeply. This will help prevent disease transmission to other birds and wildlife.

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