INDIANAPOLIS — One of the best sounds of the summer is disappearing across our state as a strange illness infects hundreds of birds and, in many cases, kills them.
At Eagle Creek Park on the west side of Indianapolis, you can't always see the birds, but you can hear them. With scores of species, it's a popular place for birders like Lin Ren, who travels to the park often to capture them on camera.
Ren said she enjoys watching and photographing the birds "because they just make you feel so good, feel peace and feel happy."
On Monday she didn't see as many as she usually does. That's because the bird feeders outside the Ornithology Center had been emptied or removed with a sign outside explaining why.
"We're really echoing what the DNR is saying that take the feeders down until we get a handle on what it is and why the birds are dying off," said Will Schaust, the center's manager and an avid birder.
While standing in the closed-off area where the birds typically come to feed, Schaust said, "the feeders are usually very busy," noting today "you definitely notice the difference in noise level."
He said they haven't found any evidence of dying songbirds in the park, but the mystery illness has killed songbirds in at least 40 Indiana counties including Marion, prompting lots of calls to the Ornithology Center and posts on its social media pages.
"They're reaching out to us personally outside of work, 'What do I do? You're the bird man, help me out,'" he said.
Schaust tells them the best thing to do is stop feeding the birds.
"If this is something that's transmitted from bird to bird we don't want them gathering, we almost want them to practice social distancing," he said. "By reducing the opportunity for food, we're reducing the congregation and the spread."
While a few birds landed on the empty feeders expecting food, when they didn't find any, they quickly took off.
As for what's killing the birds, right now all wildlife experts can do is speculate as the DNR works with the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and the USGS National Wildlife Center to pinpoint the cause.
They have, however, ruled out links to Avian influenza and the West Nile virus.
Schaust said besides taking down or emptying the feeders, people should also clean them with a disinfectant, such as a 10-percent bleach solution.
If you find a dead or infected bird, he recommends not picking it up but if you have to, then use rubber gloves to protect yourself.
Birds found in more than 40 counties
While Indiana DNR is recommending all Hoosiers take down all of their feeders, the dead birds have been found in 40 Indiana counties, including: Allen, Bartholomew, Benton, Brown, Carroll, Clark, Decatur, Delaware, Floyd, Gibson, Green, Hamilton, Hendricks, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, LaPorte, Marion, Monroe, Morgan, Newton, Parke, Porter, Starke, St. Joseph, Union, Vanderburgh, Washington, Whitley.