Birdwatchers Rejoice. The ‘Mysterious Disease’ Threatening Songbirds Has Spared North Carolina.

A blue jay gives us a gorgeous view in Guilford County. A "mysterious disease" impacting songbirds across the U.S. appears to have missed our feathered friends in North Carolina. (Image via Shutterstock)

By Michael McElroy

September 15, 2021

Our pandemic isn’t over. But North Carolina songbirds have missed the worst of a disease that plagued birds across the U.S.

Well, at least one epidemic seems to be over in NC. 

An outbreak of a “mysterious disease” affecting blue jays, robins, grackles and other large songbirds is now waning across the mid-Atlantic and mid-Western US, NC Wildlife Resources Commission said this week. And it appears to have largely spared NC, a prime bird-watching state.

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The disease, which began just a couple of months after the COVID-19 pandemic, first swells and encrusts the eyes of infected birds US, officials said, then causes tremors, severe neurological issues, and death. 

The cause is unknown. 

While this disease has mostly missed NC, other avian illnesses are still prevalent and should be monitored, officials said.

Avian conjunctivitis and salmonella poisoning are commonly illnesses picked up in and around bird feeders – so if you have a feeder, you should clean it properly to stop the spread. 

It’s kind of like wearing your mask and getting vaccinated. Small efforts can save lives: You don’t clean the feeder for yourself, you clean it for the other bird. 

Well, actually you should also clean it for yourself because humans can get salmonella poisoning from contaminated bird feeders too, and salmonella brings with it severe diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain, so, you know, you don’t want that.

For that reason, you should never clean or fill a bird feeder in the same area you make your own meals, health and wildlife officials say, but you should clean the feeders every two weeks. 

Not sure how to go about cleaning a bird feeder? 

The NC Wildlife Resources Commission’s here for you:

  • Remove all remaining seed and scrub off any debris.
  • Soak the feeder in a bleach solution of one-part household bleach to nine-parts water for 10 minutes.
  • Dry the feeder completely before refilling.
  • Hummingbird feeders should be sanitized at least once a week, and more often in wet or humid conditions. 
  • If sick or dead birds are found near the area and contact the NC Wildlife Helpline for further instructions Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., at 866-318-2401 or email anytime at [email protected]
  • If you handle a deceased bird, wear gloves or use an inverted plastic bag. Dispose of the bird in a sealed bag in the household trash or bury it deeply. Keep pets, including pet birds, and children away from sick or dead wild birds.


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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