EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The unnamed disease that kills songbirds across Indiana and neighboring states has reported more than 1,000 reports of sick and dying birds. Wildlife organizations are working to find out why and what they can do to protect their feathered inhabitants.
Armed with little knowledge of what plagues local songbirds, Vanderburgh and other counties with reports of sick or dying birds have removed and stored their bird feeders. Comply with the recommendations made by the Ministry of Natural Resources, these natural attractions trade bird watching for bird safety, claiming that part of their role is not only to protect the land and the animals they manage, but also to educate visitors.
Birds showing symptoms have tested negative for avian flu, West Nile virus and other diseases known to affect birds. People infected with the unnamed disease have been reported in 69 of Indiana’s 92 counties. Symptoms include crusty or swollen eyes, swelling of the head, and neurological problems.
Close to the house
Wesselman Woods, a 200-acre old-growth virgin forest in the heart of Evansville, is home to 150 species of birds, including many species of songbirds affected by the new disease.
Under normal circumstances, the nature reserve would have more than 10 bird feeders hanging outside the large windows of their natural center. However, Wesselman’s director of community engagement Kristina Arwood said they had removed all bird feeders on the property, posting notices to inform visitors of the disease.
âBird feeders kind of create a hub, an area where many birds can congregate in one place, and that’s how these diseases spread,â she explained. âNot having this centralized location is helpful. It encourages (the birds) to find food in the forest, in nature, and not to congregate around a central location.
Although there have been reports of sick birds in the county, Wesselman Woods curator and wildlife educator Elaine Kung said she has not seen or heard reports of sick birds in the Wesselman woods. Other parks and nature reserves in the area have reported similar circumstances – sick birds, but none of their employees have personally witnessed or heard reports on their property.
With the feeders gone, will the birds stay?
Without feeders to attract birds to homes, wildlife observatories, and foraging areas, they will go to other food sources, Kung said, adding that Wesselman’s diverse population of native plants, rather than his bird feeders, is what makes the forest an attractive home for its birds.
âMost of the time people think of trees as perches for birds, but roosting is only one aspect of their habitat. When you have a lot of native plants that support native insects, you will also have insects as a direct food source and as pollinators for other fruits and berries that the birds would eat, âshe said.
Across the Ohio River, Audubon State Park has also removed feeders. Chief Naturalist Lisa Hoffman said that although no sick birds were found in Henderson County, Ky., The park wanted to be proactive in protecting its bird population.
âAudubon is kind of known as a hotspot for bird watching,â she said. “We have so many bird watchers here that we thought we needed to set a precedent and draw people’s attention to the fact that there is a problem with the health of wildlife right now.”
Hoffman explained that birds in the area would pay little attention to the lack of bird feeders due to the abundant supply of food in the summer.
âSometimes during the growing season you don’t really have a lot of activity at your bird feeders anyway. It’s just kind of a little extra, a quick and easy fix for them if they really need the seeds. Most of the time, birds are quite able to find whatever they need in nature, âshe said.
What to do after the growing season
As researchers scramble to find answers about the disease, the end of summer – and the growing season – is approaching.
For birds, this means migration to warmer areas and less food available, especially if feeders are not in use. Hoffman said the seeds in bird feeders are especially useful during the winter months.
âWinter temperature drops and snow or ice events create a kind of difficulty for the birds to get the energy they need,â she said. “Many of our seeds contain the high fat content birds need to keep their bodies active. Cold temperatures.”
Hoffman added that birds further north would face greater difficulty than those in southern Indiana and Kentucky.
“For us, even here in this region, we don’t have such extreme winters, so it’s not as important here as in other parts of the country,” she said.
While continued reduction in feeders will challenge birds to find different food sources, migration and warmer southern temperatures will provide birds with more opportunities to find food without increasing their risk of disease spread. .
Information on how to spot and report sick or dying birds in Indiana or updates on the disease can be found at in.gov/dnr/. Birds affected in Kentucky can be reported to fw.ky.gov/Pages/default.aspx. For more information on native plant species you can visit audubon.org/plantes-natives.