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VERIFY: Are songbirds in Georgia dying from an unknown disease?

No, the Georgia DNR and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study both said there haven't been any cases detected in Georgia.

ATLANTA — It sparked national concern in the past few weeks. There is an unknown bird disease killing songbirds across several Eastern states. 

Viewers have emailed the 11Alive VERIFY team asking if it's reached Georgia, and asking how they can help stop the spread. 

Here's what experts said.

THE QUESTION 

Has the unknown bird disease been detected in Georgia? 

Is it necessary for Georgia residents to take down bird feeders to stop the spread?  

THE ANSWER 

No, the Georgia DNR and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study both said there haven't been any cases detected in Georgia.

Unless the disease becomes prevalent in the state, officials are not recommending for people to take feeders down. But they do need to be cleaned regularly. 

WHAT WE KNOW 

Let's start with, "what is the unknown bird disease?" 

Unfortunately, researchers don't know yet. 

"They've done a lot of testing for a lot of different things. It really hasn't had any hits as far as known diseases and a series of viruses, bacteria, things like that," Georgia DNR Wildlife Biologist Todd Schneider explained. 

Symptoms of the disease include birds with crusty swollen eyes, seizure, feeling lethargic, and a lack of balance among other neurological conditions. 

Schneider said scientists have detected it in about a dozen bird species. However, it's four types of birds that have been impacted the greatest, which includes blue jays, American robins, common grackles and European starlings. 

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According to the DNR, the "mysterious illness is sickening and killing birds in the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Southeast." 

So, has it been found in Georgia yet? 

The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia has been testing birds from around the Southeast United States. A spokesperson for the study said they have not had any positive tests from Georgia yet. 

The closest state to Georgia to have positive cases so far is Kentucky. Most of the cases are up around the Washington D.C. area as well as Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. 

Since most birds migrate south for the winter, there is a chance the illness could spread to other states. But as of right now, the DNR and the scientists at UGA said the illness has not been detected in Georgia. 

Should Georgia residents take down their bird feeders? 

Wildlife specialists in states like Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia are recommending people take their bird feeders down. 

In Georgia, Schneider say\id it hasn't been recommended, yet. He explained that researchers still don't know exactly how the disease spreads, so there isn't clear science connecting bird feeders to the disease. 

"What we suggest, to be on the safe side, is that if the disease becomes prevalent, then take the feeders down," Schneider explained. 

He did say people should use basic sanitation which includes washing the feeders at least once a week with a 10-percent bleach solution, as well as cleaning up seed holes on the ground. 

"A couple times a week is ideal. General good hygiene around the bird feeder and that will help. That's just a good practice, because there are a lot of other diseases that will spread by bird feeders," Schneider explained. 

What should people do if they see a dead bird? 

If you see a bird with the conditions listed above, you should take a picture and call your local DNR office, so they can get the bird tested. 

"I think if they find birds that have crusty eyes, especially those four species I mentioned, they can contact me, because we'd definitely like to know if this disease or illness is occurring in Georgia," Schneider said. 

Call Todd Schneider at 478-994-1438 or email him at todd.schneider@dnr.ga.gov

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