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story.lead_photo.caption Two cardinals relax at a bird bath. To prevent and lessen disease, bird baths are supposed to be cleaned and scrubbed with warm, soapy water and rinsed out every two days in the summertime, according to officials. (Photo by Clyde Davis)

TEXARKANA — Dead birds with crusty, swollen eyes have been found in 12 Northeastern states. Arkansas and Texas officials say though the disease is not affecting birds in this area, residents should be vigilant in keeping watch for signs of trouble in this region.

"Each state they report it in seems like it is one closer to us. We are close to mid-July and there are some birds that start to migrate (from the north) here in another month or so. With the disease spreading as rapidly, there is a danger of it coming our way," said Michael Mathews, a Tyler Audubon Society representative and a former biologist.

"Right now, it has spread to about 12 states, all up in the Northeast, primarily in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and close to New England. They've done a lot of testing, but they still don't know what it is. The symptoms start with conjunctivitis and neurological problems with birds not being able to fly in a straight line or not being able to walk," he said.

Once the symptoms are noticeable, the bird usually dies within 24 hours

Many experts and bird enthusiasts are urging people to remove their bird feeders from backyards to lessen the possibility of transmitting and spreading the unknown disease.

Jean Bratten of the Tex-Ark Audubon Society, concurred there had been no reports or sightings of diseased birds so far this this area, but she is going to quit feeding birds immediately.

"I would ask that everybody quit feeding right now. They come to the same feeders over and over and spread it," she said, adding birds have other food sources in the wild.

Mathews estimates only about 10 to 15% of any bird's daily food comes from feeders.

For those who want to continue feeding birds at this time, Mathews says bird feeders should be cleaned regularly with 10% bleach to water solution and precautions should be taken to ensure the bird seed does not get wet and moldy.

"We all need to be alert because if it does get in the area, the best thing we can do is pull all our feeders and wait until it passes," he said.

Dr. Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director for Audubon Arkansas, says Arkansas Game & Fish Commission is not yet recommending people take down their bird feeders. But, if sick birds are observed, the Commission would like people to report it to them.

A finch sits on a bird feeder. Officials recommend cleaning feeders regularly, every one or two weeks, to help lessen the likelihood of disease. A 10 percent bleach to water mixture or adding white vinegar to water are recommended methods of cleaning. The feeder should be fully submerged in the mixture and dried before being refilled with bird seed. (Photo by Clyde Davis)

He also recommends the regular cleaning of feeders and bird baths to prevent any potential cause and spread of disease.

"In this heat, clean bird baths every couple of days. Fresh water is important to birds. The bird baths can be cleaned with soap and water or weak bleach," Scheiman said.

When cleaning feeders, he prefers a white vinegar and water mix, saying that he pours enough vinegar in the water until he can smell it.

This summertime bird disease outbreak is somewhat troubling, Mathews said.

"We get outbreaks like this periodically but it usually happens in the winter and it is due to salmonella infections like we had in February and March," he said.

"What is really interesting is there are so many people working on this disease problem and they don't know what it is. That's really the dangers, apparently this spreads very rapidly. It popped up in Pennsylvania with a few cases and all at once it took off," Mathews said.

Bratten said this latest challenge only adds to the alarming decline of birds in North America reported by the journal Science in 2019.

At that time, the journal reported there were 2.9 billion fewer birds, or 29% fewer, than there were 50 years ago.

"Apparently, we are still losing them at a pretty rapid rate. It's not just our birds, but our bees we are losing," Bratten said.

These losses are primarily attributed to loss of habitat and the increased use of pesticides, according to most officials.

To report sick or dead birds in Arkansas, contact the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission at [email protected] and include contact information, date and time of the observation, location, number of birds/animals affected, a description and any videos or photos.

If in Texas when finding dead or injured birds, fill out the short report form at d-bird.org/tx.

Mathews said he would also posting any progression of the disease in this area on the Tyler Audubon Society's Facebook page.

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