Unknown Illness Killing Birds

What would you think if you walked outside and found dead birds three days in a row? You'd be shocked and puzzled, and that's exactly how experts at the health department are feeling. They say it's not West Nile or anything else they've seen.

Since Monday, at least five dead birds have shown up on one Savannah woman's 56th Street lawn, but the disturbing thing is how these birds are dying.

The bizarre bird sickness first showed up in Diane Connerat's driveway Monday. "Flipping and fluttering and it looked like a cat had bitten the bird and it's neck was all torn off," she recalled.

Soon, that bird was dead. And when that same sickness showed up three more times in the span of 24 hours, Connerat called the health department.

"It was something I'd never seen before," said health department worker Cristina Pasa. "Something quite unusual."

Pasa says she's looked at hundreds or thousands of dead birds over the years, checking for West Nile virus, but these birds looked disturbingly different.

"They could move their legs and wings, but their head was surrounded by flies and the area around their eye already had maggots growing in it," she told us. "It seemed to have some sort of illness where it was being eaten from the inside out."

The Department of Georgia Natural Resources has taken the birds up to Athens for testing, but they're not sure what's going on yet, either. Meanwhile, Diane Connerat's just hoping no more of them show up. "Because they're dropping out of the trees in my yard and it's scaring everybody in the neighborhood."

The health department is asking anyone who sees anything similar to this to not handle the birds, because they don't know if they can transmit disease or not. Instead, call the Chatham County Health Department at 356.2441 to have the birds picked up.

Again, they don't appear to have West Nile virus and they seem to be concentrated in a very small area at this point.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com