View Full Version : Barn sparrows are dropping dead... worried about horses

Oct. 14, 2009, 02:15 PM
Not sure if this is more "around the farm" or "horse care" so feel free to move it. Is there anything that could be causing our barn birds to drop dead without obvious injuries that is dangerous to horses? No obvious injuries from hawks or other birds. West nile comes to mind and I'm terrified because the horses are not vaccinated. I'm not sure if it's even too late to do it now or if it would make any difference. Has anyone had anything else like this happen or have any ideas? I've personally removed 4 or 5 birds in the last week. One last night was laying in my horse's stall and I could see it still breathing, but as I scooped it up it started flapping. By the time I got it outside it was flapping and thrashing but calmed back down and started breathing really heavy. It was dead this morning.

Oct. 14, 2009, 02:28 PM
Unless you are in an area with an unexpected cold snap, I would suggest that you call your vet, local animal control officer and state extension to report it. It could be anything, but finding that many dead/dying birds in such a short amount of time would worry me, too. Please let us know how it turns out.

Oct. 14, 2009, 02:50 PM
Call your county agriculture agent; your state agriculture agent, and the local health dept.
If it is west nile, the CDCs here in GA will want to know.

And vaccinate right now, today. It's never "too late" to try to stop diseases, vaccinate for west nile, eee, rabies, tetanus, etc. Costs a lot less to vaccinate 2x a year and the treat a sick horse.

Oct. 14, 2009, 02:58 PM
West Nile virus symptoms in birds are usually non-existent.

Birds do not usually show signs of infection until the last stage of the disease, which is encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. An infected bird may appear drowsy, be unable to fly or walk properly; it may even have problems standing upright.

The West Nile virus has been reported in over 150 species of birds in North America.

Oct. 14, 2009, 03:09 PM
Well, I'm getting a little perturbed right now. My mom called the county agent and they were nonchalant and said that there's only concern for the most part about blue jays, hawks, and something else. I called the local health dept. while she called them and left a message, but the lady I spoke with also said that they're only testing the hawks and jays and something else. Reading one of the pp's messages it just dawned on me that we had one sparrow a couple of weeks ago that we thought was somehow maybe a bigger baby bird which was bizarre for the time of year. He was in a horse's stall and wasn't flying well. He would awkwardly flap and fly around. The other birds seemed like they were really picking on him so we thought he may just be old and dying. It didn't dawn on us that there would be more. I hope the local health dept. provides more assistance when they call back.

Oct. 14, 2009, 03:20 PM
Dmal, I don't know where you're located, but the east coast of the U.S. is experiencing below normal temperatures right now.

West Nile is spread by mosquitoes, so I'm wondering why you'd have an outbreak now. I don't know the incubation period for it, though.

Barn swallows are listed as one of the birds that get West Nile. I always watch for dead/dying crows and grackles. They seem to get hit first and hardest, for some reason.

Oct. 14, 2009, 03:25 PM
We're in Indiana and are having low temperatures right now. I don't know that it's gone below freezing yet though so nothing I would consider outrageous. I definitely haven't seen mosquitos for awhile, but was worried about the incubation like you mentioned. Then when you mentioned them not showing signs until the late stages of the disease I thought this might be an issue.

Oct. 14, 2009, 03:59 PM
From everything I can find the incubation period is from 5 to 15 days, but that's for symptoms to start showing up.

Since birds don't show symptoms until the day they're dying, it's hard to pinpoint just when or where they contracted the disease.

There's also been some speculation that West Nile can be transmitted from bird to bird, although studies are inconclusive.

Oct. 14, 2009, 04:14 PM
I have always heard that one of the first signs is crows and other birds dying so I would be concerned too. If the local government isn't helping you I would make sure to give your vet a call. They might have some ideas.

Just a thought though. Just say it IS west nile and one of your horses IS starting to get sick, wouldn't having them vaccinated right now exacerbate that?

I'm not sure if it actually works that way, I was just wondering.

Oct. 14, 2009, 08:42 PM
I work for a Health Department in Michigan and we dealt with a lot of West Nile calls in our area about three years ago. They were only testing crows and blue jays at the time because they are the first birds to show problems. You may have an outbreak of aspergillis (SP?) this is from damp or moldy feed and will kill birds quickly, they get lethargic, don't want to fly and sometimes go blind. They have trouble breathing and are too sick to care about safety so they are easy to approach. They also sometimes poison starlings and other non-native pest birds (the DNR or some other Govt. entity). If you are really worried, the best people to call are the Wildlife Division of your state DNR. They usually know if there are diseases going around or what trends are happening with the local wildlife. I think that it is unlikely that it is West Nile, but I may be wrong.

Oct. 15, 2009, 07:27 AM
Consult your vet or local vet college . Don't know about your area but here has been a lot of EEE on the east coast this fall. Don't know how birds look when they have it though. I think it is reasonable to be concerned whenever you find more than usual number of dead birds.

Check out carla's advice too. You might want to send one of the birds for testing.

Also, when you say barn sparrows, do you mean barn swallows? I've never heard of 'barn sparrows". If it is mild enough for swallows in your area, then it's mild enough for mosquitoes (I would think)

Oct. 15, 2009, 08:05 AM
West Nile for sure. It decimated my crow population about five years ago - I would find them dead in the street. :cry: Fortunately they've finally come back this year.

I'd make sure your horses are vaccinated and maybe ask your vet if they need a booster.

Oct. 15, 2009, 08:14 AM
Definitely vaccinate for West Nile.

The sparrows (I'll guess you're referring to House Sparrows?) could be dying of WNV, but if they are House Sparrows someone could have poisoned the flock. I can't recall if you need a USDA permit for an invasive bird - I'd have to check on that. Let me know if you want me to. House Sparrows are bad news for native birds.

Anyway - if you have an entire flock that's dying it is probably WNV. It could be another disease, or it could be they got into a toxin left out on purpose or buy accident. (like moldy corn out in a field, or an antifreeze spill nearby).

The only thing you can do is report it like you did, and protect your animals by vaccinating. You could call your state lab and see if they'll do a necropsy on the animal but I tend to doubt it. I wonder if your vet might help you out? It's worth a phone call.

Since you don't know what the birds died of - I'd collect the carcasses, wearing disposable gloves, and bury deeply or burn them. The landfill might also accept them.

Hope that helps.

Oct. 15, 2009, 08:23 AM
Is this in the barn that you recently put up?

Could there be any toxic substance on the barn. Could the new lumber be treated with something that poisoned the sparrows when they landed on the beams?

Oct. 15, 2009, 01:22 PM
Thanks everyone. Nobody out here is any help so far. :( Local health department called me back and said the state wouldn't test them so it's not worth trying then went on to say how it could be a lot of things blah blah blah. My vet called me back and told me to call the health dept, that "they don't handle birds". I said "I'm aware the vet is not an ornithologist, but I was concerned about if this is west nile that could affect my horses." She said "oh, well you didn't say that in the message so that's all I can help you with." She was such a b*&ch that I just hung up. The vet is coming on the 27th to euthanize one of my horses (not related) so I'll just have to wait to talk to her until then. I don't know if she's just trying to give us the brush off so we find another vet or something, but it's just impossible to get a hold of her and she's stated repeatedly that we're the only ones she comes out this far for.

This isn't in the new barn, btw. It's the old one they're in now.

Sorry, I call them "barn sparrows" because they are just plain ol' house sparrows that have absolutely taken over the barn. It's one of those things that we've called them that for so long I forgot that wasn't their real name lol! They're all over the barn. Yuck. Maybe their eating our horse's medicine laden grain or something? Cosequin, bute, and anihist... Possibility?

Oct. 15, 2009, 05:50 PM
Well, if it is a bird that eats bugs to survive, the cold snap that we are having has killed off their food supply and that could be the cause of the birds dying. I have read somewhere else of the same thing happening. Some of the bird species have been caught off guard with this cooler weather and they didn't head south soon enough.

Oct. 15, 2009, 10:41 PM
Sorry, I call them "barn sparrows" because they are just plain ol' house sparrows that have absolutely taken over the barn. It's one of those things that we've called them that for so long I forgot that wasn't their real name lol! They're all over the barn. Yuck. Maybe their eating our horse's medicine laden grain or something? Cosequin, bute, and anihist... Possibility?

If not for the mass death and possible disease, I'd wonder why you were complaining about dead sparrows, I can't stand them. Having watched them murder my bluebirds and tree swallows, I think the only tolerable HOSP is a dead HOSP.

Oct. 16, 2009, 12:08 AM
There have been an increase the number of cases of EEE (Eastern Equine Encephalitis) on the east coast...this also (like West Nile) involves mosquitoes and birds for transmission. The affected bird population is more likely to show signs of disease before death (or recovery) than with WNV and it affects more species of birds. There are vaccines for horses...I'd use both EEE and WNV vaccines.
Also take care for yourself... as it is transmitted by mosquitoes to humans as well

wylde sage
Oct. 16, 2009, 12:33 AM
You need to be careful handling any birds for YOUR own health. Seems like a no brainer, but I got so sick from pigeons that were dropping in my barn that I nearly died. That was the summer before last. I never had the birds tested, I was too sick to care at the time. Stupid me didn't get tested either, again, too sick and WAY misdiagnosed. I would bet with all the symptoms that it was WNV and the recovery is SLOW.
At any rate, please be concerned for yourself as well as the critters.

We moved out of there BTW.