Birds are dying in large numbers across Arlington and much of the D.C. area, prompting an investigation.
Dead birds have become an eerily common sight along local roads and sidewalks, and a common discussion thread in local Nextdoor groups. The wave of bird deaths this month — which seemingly corresponded with the emergence of Brood X cicadas — has also caught the attention of local and state authorities.
“Beginning on Tuesday, May 18… Animal Control began receiving an increase in the number of calls regarding sick/injured juvenile birds, specifically Grackles and Blue Jays,” wrote Animal Welfare League of Arlington Animal Control Chief Jennifer Toussaint. “Eye issues were reported in what otherwise looked like healthy juvenile birds, causing blindness and the birds to land and stay on the ground. Animal Control is now seeing additional species of birds affected. Other agencies and localities across the region and state are reporting similar issues at this time.”
Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas tells ARLnow that the issue “is widespread” across the region and is a hot topic of conversation among local naturalists.
“We have received numerous [reports]… from numerous places outside the county as well,” he said, adding that he is in contact with the state biologist about the matter.
“He is investigating and will examine the birds,” said Abugattas.
In addition to Arlington, an increase in dead birds has been reported in Fairfax County, Bethesda, and parts of D.C., according to Nextdoor posts viewed by ARLnow. One post, from a wildlife veterinarian, suggests that a bacterial disease may be behind the phenomenon — but the information is very preliminary.
“The resolution of [a bird’s symptoms] after administration of an antibiotic suggests that this is a bacterial infection, not a virus,” the veterinarian wrote. “Hopefully we will have more definitive answers from the lab in a couple of weeks.”
AWLA says it is in contact with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, which is performing tests on a selection of deceased birds.
“We await any results that may shed more light on the current situation,” the organization said. “At this time we are asking members of the public to dispose of these birds promptly when found on their property.”
The league provided the following safety tips for residents who dispose of dead birds.
- “Wear hand covering (such as gloves) and avoid any direct contact with the birds”
- “Consider picking up the birds using the same method you would for pet waste. Invert a bag over your hand, pick up the bird, and then pull the bag over the bird, tying with a knot at the top before disposal.”
- “Dispose of in waste receptacle outside of the home… use diligent hand washing following”
Another tip: don’t use insecticide on cicadas, which can poison whatever creature later eats them.
⚠️ DON'T use insecticide on cicadas! ⚠️ Remember that many animals, including birds, bats, dogs, and cats, eat cicadas and can get very sick if they ingest insecticide. Help us keep local animals safe and well – the cicadas won't be here for that long, anyway! pic.twitter.com/c2LHN1tDc2
— AWLArlington, VA (@AWLAArlington) May 25, 2021
ALWA is also encouraging residents to report dead birds via an online form, and to report dead and injured birds on public property via phone.
“If a resident finds an injured bird or deceased birds on public playgrounds, parks, and fields please promptly call Arlington County Animal Control promptly at 703-931-9241,” the organization said. “We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work with State Agencies to better understand and address this issue.”