Skip to main content

With deadly mystery illness spreading, should Minnesotans take down bird feeders?

The unexplained ailment has resulted in bird die-offs in the eastern U.S.
A healthy blue jay at a feeder.

A healthy blue jay at a feeder.

Even hundreds of miles away in Minnesota, the mystery illness behind significant, unexplained bird die-offs in eastern and mid-Atlantic states is causing worry.

"Audubon Minnesota has been getting some calls from concerned citizens wondering about the situation locally and what they should do," Alexandra Wardwell, prairie project manager with Audubon Minnesota, told Bring Me The News.

The fatal illness, which causes swelling and crusting of the eyes, seizures and erratic behavior in affected birds, was first noticed in late May, federal wildlife officials have said, with the initial wave of deaths coming in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. Since then, it's been recorded in five additional states: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

Young common grackles, blue jays, European starlings and American robins have been most impacted, the agencies said, though there have been incidents involving other songbirds.

Researchers still don't know what is killing the birds. Common culprits (such as West Nile virus, avian influenza, salmonella or chlamydia) have been ruled out. They also don't know how it spreads, and haven't found any issues in domestic livestock or poultry, or humans.

A bird in Washington D.C. exhibiting symptoms of the illness.

A bird in Washington D.C. exhibiting symptoms of the illness.

In impacted states, local agencies have been directing people to take down bird feeders, in hopes of preventing further reach. Some local groups, even in states without a confirmed case, have been equally aggressive. That includes in Wisconsin, where the Madison Audubon Society recently recommended people remove all bird feeders "until this wildlife disease subsides," as a precaution.

So is it time for Minnesotans to do the same?

"At this point, there is no indication that Minnesotans need to take down well-maintained bird feeders," Wardwell said, noting the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would be the agency tasked with issuing such a recommendation.

As of July 20, there had been no confirmed cases of this mystery illness in Minnesota, a DNR spokesperson said, though the agency is monitoring developments out east. (The closest recorded cases have been in Indiana and Ohio.) Wardwell also said there have been no cases of widespread bird die-offs here. 

Whether it will come to Minnesota remains to be seen. Tami Vogel, communications director with the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, called it "nearly impossible" to predict. She cited many "unknowns," including climate conditions needed for the illness to spread, whether the disease needs a host, and the source.

"We certainly hope conditions in Minnesota are not conducive to its spread," she said, noting the rehab center hasn't found a case here, but is keeping tabs on the situation.

Right now, backyard birders here should remain attentive to their winged visitors. The DNR said reporting a single dead bird generally isn't necessary. However, if someone finds five or more dead birds, or a sick and dying bird with "no obvious cause of illness," they should contact the DNR to report it.

Both the DNR and Audubon Minnesota also recommend thorough, regular cleaning of feeders and baths — as is always the case. Wardwell suggested white vinegar and water to clean out bird baths, and a "very diluted bleach solution, nine parts water to one part bleach," to kill pathogens in feeders. (You can find more information on safely cleaning feeders here.)

And of course, keep an eye on updates, Wardwell said, noting that "with any wildlife disease situation the recommendations and precautions can change."

"We appreciate the public’s help staying vigilant and keeping Minnesota birds safe," she added.

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-05-23 at 6.41.22 AM

USS Minneapolis-St. Paul officially launched in Duluth ceremony

It's the first U.S. Navy ship to be commissioned in Minnesota.

Screen Shot 2022-05-21 at 9.56.21 AM

North High principal Mauri Friestleben returning to finish year

The principal said Friday she had been fired from her role over her support of a student protest.


One dead, two injured in wrong-way crash on Hwy. 169

The crash occurred on Highway 169 early Sunday morning.

minneapolis police

Man fatally shot overnight in north Minneapolis

The shooting was reported around 2:20 a.m.

Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 8.30.08 AM

Campsites closed at Voyageurs National Park due to 'historic' water levels

All backcountry trails and campsites are closed, as well as many frontcountry sites.

state capitol Minnesota

Lawmakers reach agreement on tax cuts ahead of session's end

Lawmakers announced they had reached a deal on a tax bill Saturday ahead of the looming session deadline.


Victims of daytime drive-by shooting in Robbinsdale identified

The two men died after a hail of bullets struck a vehicle.

Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 8.14.37 AM

Source of 'loud explosion' in Brooklyn Park a mystery

The noise was investigated by police, but no source could be determined.

covid, vaccine, booster shots

COVID: All Americans over 50 advised to get a second booster

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise again as new COVID variants emerge.

J.W. Peck (left) and Eric Galler.

2 Minnesotans inducted into White Castle's Hall of Fame

White Castle — it's what a man in Minneapolis and another in Woodbury, crave.

Screen Shot 2022-05-21 at 5.46.37 PM

Video shows officers ended pursuit before fatal crash in Anoka

The crash occurred when the driver fled police during an attempted traffic stop in Coon Rapids.

Eli Hart

6-year-old Eli Hart identified as boy found dead in car trunk

The kindergartner's father was trying to get full custody of his son.


Flickr - black bear walking fence line - Dan Ox

DNR: Property owner complains about black bear, refuses to take down feeders

A lesson in what not to do if a black bear comes into your yard.

Pixabay - black bear

Why conditions in Minnesota are ripe for more bear-human conflicts

A one-two punch of a May frost and dry spell could lead to a natural food shortage.

Pixabay - Crappie fish

MN DNR: Please call us if you find a large group of dead fish

The agency says hot weather might be contributing to recent die-offs.

June 7 - New Platform - CROP

Ospreys started a nest on a coop's power pole - so they built a new home for them

A small electrical cooperative went out of its way to help the hopeful osprey pair.

Brent Cizek - great gray owl video screengrab

MN photographer's wintry great gray owl video earns praise from Audubon Society

The clip earned an honorable mention in the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards.

A Black Bear wandering through grass.

More bear sightings reported in Twin Cities

All recent sightings have occurred in the eastern metro.

bear cub

Bear clambers into northern MN home through kitchen window

A black bear in the house isn't something you see every day.

Flickr - boat lake ramp

Low water levels: Is it already time to take the boat off the water?

The DNR is urging Minnesotans to consider it in some situations.