Sudden Bird Deaths? What Is Going On?

It has been an especially challenging 2020 and 2021 for living beings on planet Earth. With all the transformative social changes unfolding daily, sometimes the plight of nature gets lost in the story of the day. In this vein, I want to bring to light the plight of our winged allies…Birds. There is a mass die off of birds happening across the United States and no one can figure out why? The importance of birds is often understated. Birds control pest, pollinate plants, and help spread seeds. Without a healthy global community of birds, how long could the human family thrive?

Hundreds of thousands of different species of migratory birds did not make their annual winter migration after a mysterious phenomenon caused a mass die-off to these birds, which alarmed biologists in the southwestern United States. Now in 2021 wildlife experts in at least six states reported an increase in strange deaths of European starlings, blue jays, and common grackles in June. Avian biologist Kate Slankard from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources said that there are an unusual amount of dying birds this year and scientists have yet figured the reason why. NBC News reported that other than Kentucky and Washington, other states have also reported similar cases of dead birds. These are Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia.

To date no one knows what is causing sudden bird deaths.

Photo by Ilana Maxwell.
Photo by Ilana Maxwell.

According to the news outlet, symptoms of suspicious bird deaths include crusty or swollen eyes, as well as neurological symptoms like seizures and the inability to stay balanced.

Wildlife experts noticed that these birds behave as if they were blind and exhibited other unusual behaviors like if approached by humans these birds were not flying away. This is not a usual behavior.

“They will just sit still, often kind of shaking. It’s pretty safe to say that hundreds of birds in the state have had this problem.”

Photo by Ilana Maxwell

Several theories have been formulated on what is causing birds to become sick and suddenly die. This includes a widespread infectious disease, the cicada outbreak, and pesticides. According to wildlife biologist Laura Kearns from the Ohio Division of Wildlife, she noted that it is not easy to come up with the diagnosis yet as several rounds of lab tests must be done.

Moreover, Indiana wildlife experts said that there have been suspicious deaths as well among the bluejays, robins, northern cardinals, and brown-headed cowbirds in five counties. Upon testing, the birds were all negative of the West Nile virus.

No determination has been made if all the sudden bird deaths nation wide are related. However what comes to heart for me is that we have to help out our winged friends get thru this.

Researchers and scientist are at a lost for what to do. It has been suggested to ensure bird baths are disinfected with a 10% bleach solution, rinsed out, and air dried before putting back for the birds.

While others are saying to remove feeders… This option does not resonate with my internal compass. It seems that not helping out with a food source is more detrimental.

My response to helping are based on creating vibrant and healthy habit for birds in your garden, patios, and community. Some birds are omnivorous while others are vegetarian. A bird that stops in for a fresh offering of seeds from the feeders will stay to dine on insects in your garden. This working together for a mutually beneficial relationship where birds get feed and you get natural insect control may be a huge factor in assisting our birds in staying healthy.

Five Ways To Create Welcoming Spaces For Birds

1. Set up moving water features

shallow focus photo of black bird bathing on a water fountain
Photo by Caleb Oquendo on

We share the love and need of water with birds. They are naturally attracted to fresh water. Birds love fountains and once they sense the presence of fresh water it becomes a habitat for them.

Consider installing creative and fun water fountains around your property. Keep in mind that birds will poop in your fountains making the water smelly from germs and bacteria. Be prepared to keep your fountains clean. If not kept in check this becomes unattractive, less pleasurable, and unsanitary. If you cannot commit to maintaining your fountain by cleaning often and thoroughly DO NOT install a water feature. There are other ways to help.

2. Plant bushes.

The main reason I like incorporating native bushes into my gardening landscape is to provide habitat protection in the landscape. Another benefit is the super food some of these bushes produce. The best place to start researching what plants will work for you is at your local plant nurseries.

Here is a short list to get you started.

  • manzanita,
  • barberry,
  • buffalo berry,
  • silverberry,
  • buckthorn,
  • mountain ash,
  • china berry,
  • California Christmas berry,
  • the pepper tree – the fruit of which is a splendid bird food in Southern California,
  • nockaway, lote bush, and bluewood – three favorites in the US Southwest.

3. Grow plants with berries birds like to eat.

The berries from the following plants are loved by our winged friends. Make sure to check what grows best in your area. Talk to staff at your local nurseries for ideas and check out your organic seed catalogs for inspiration.

  • elders,
  • raspberries,
  • blackberries,
  • various wild cherries,
  • blueberries,
  • wild grapes,
  • juniper berries,
  • huckleberries,
  • rose hips,
  • fruits of sarsaparilla,
  • sour gum,
  • gooseberries and currants.

4. Plant flowers that attract birds.

Photo by Ilana Maxwell.

Your local plant nursery and seed catalogs (along with observation) are great sources of knowledge to help you choose the best plants to introduce into your garden. Many of these plants can be planted into containers allowing you to be creative in placement.

5. Use bird scare tape after treating plants in the garden.

Photo source:

The purpose of the bird scare tape is to keep birds out of an area of your garden you may have to treat with a fungicide or other potentially toxic substance for 24 to 48 hours. This keeps birds out of the treated area or away from a newly treated plant until you remove the tape. Bird scare tape is known to work with most species of birds. The bright light that reflects off the tape along with the tape’s movements frightens birds away. It is said that the colors and patterns on the tape mimics the scales of a snake. Use scare tape on branches and in other strategic locations to deter birds from specific parts of the garden. 

Hawk visits photographer on Fathers Day 2021. Photo by Kim Mendoza.

Let’s help our winged kin thrive by creating and maintaining bountiful spaces for their visits. I’d love to hear your ideas or suggestions in the comment section.

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