Indiana DNR lifts moratorium on feeding birds

It’s OK for bird lovers across the state to set out their bird feeds again, according to Indiana’s department of natural resources (DNR).

The news was announced late Friday afternoon on a web page the DNR set up to inform Hoosier bird lovers about the status of a mysterious malady, which three months ago started leaving songbirds of several species dead or dying.

The green light to set out feeders came with a caveat. The DNR says: “Residents throughout Indiana may again put out their bird feeders if they are comfortable doing so and are not observing sick or dead birds in their yard.”

The cause of the dead and sick birds is still not known. According to the DNR webpage, “The cause of this disease is unknown and it is possible it may never be determined.”

The statement from the DNR continues, “The USGS National Wildlife Health Center and other researchers are continuing the investigation with existing samples and data, but unless the event repeats, it is unlikely they will be able to identify a cause in the short-term.”

The moratorium is being lifted because of a diminished number of reports about dead and dying birds. According to the DNR, “In early September, biologists determined bird deaths associated with the disease outbreak had significantly declined. The disease event did not result in an imminent threat to people, the population of specific bird species, or to the overall population of birds in Indiana.”

The malady affected birds in several other areas outside Indiana: Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, among others.

It was in late May, when Indiana’s DNR started getting reports of sick and dying birds. The first reports were from Monroe County. The birds had neurological signs, eye swelling, and crusty discharge around the eyes.

Indiana’s DNR responded with a recommendation in late June that people not set out their bird feeders. The statewide moratorium on bird feeding was intended as a precaution against the possibility that the disease was caused by an infectious agent that could be transmitted from bird-to-bird at backyard feeders.

According to the DNR’s songbird death web page, the department received more than 4,300 reports of sick or dead birds. Of those, 750 involved a specific set of clinical signs—crusty eyes, eye discharge, and/or neurological issues.

Species that were affected included: American robin, blue jay, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, European starling, various species of sparrows and finches, and northern cardinal.

The resumption of bird feeding comes with instructions from the DNR about cleaning feeders. Seed and suet feeders are supposed to be cleaned at least once every two weeks by scrubbing them with soap and water, followed by a short soak in a 10-percent bleach solution, according to the DNR.