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Blue Jays and Other Songbirds in the Northeast Hit with Mysterious Disease

juvenile bluejay
Juvenile blue jay at bird feeder

A new disease has been killing blue jays and other songbirds in the northeast. Scientists say it is a unique disease that causes the songbirds to lose their eyesight and develop neurological symptoms that cause erratic flight, head tremors, and stumbling. They also warn homeowners to stop feeding blue jays or providing access to birdbaths because they think birds might catch and spread the new disease from congregating at these sites. If you find any blue jays with these symptoms, please bring them to proper authorities for evaluation so we can learn more about this devastating illness!

There have been reports of this disease in ten states, including Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and more recently, New Jersey. The United States Geological Survey put out a statement announcing that they have ruled out several infectious pathogens. These include the well-known avian influenza and West Nile, along with salmonella, chlamydia, a myriad of flaviviruses, and some parasites.

Scientists are working hard to find the source of the new disease and learn more about its origins, though they don't have any solid leads yet. It is unclear if the recent illness poses any threat to humans, though it seems that blue jays are more likely to have close contact with the source of this illness than other birds.

Residents should be on the lookout for any bird that has been stricken with this disease. One might notice a bird is behaving in ways that correlate to the symptoms, another noticeable symptom being excessive vocalizations. Common fledgling birds like blue jays and robins are most vulnerable, though cardinals and grackles are in the mix too. Some believe blue jays are more prone to these types of diseases because they often eat carrion, which can contain bacteria that lead to viral or bacterial infections.

Dead birds pose risks both on-site as well as off-property when they are handled improperly after being found near residential homes. According to the state advisory, gloves must always be worn while handling any bird carcasses because there may still be infectious agents present in their feathers even if all signs point towards death due to an accident like flying into a window. If you believe the bird may have had the disease in question, double bag the dead bird and keep it in a cool location until authorities can retrieve it. Keeping wild animal populations healthy begins with preventing transmission between infected and non-infected individuals, so if there is a case in or around your property, clean out all bird feeders and birdbaths to prevent further contamination of wildlife.

Additionally, if you see a bird with these symptoms anywhere in New Jersey, we urge you to contact Lewis at or call 877-WARN-DEP to report your finding.

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