Feeders Should Be Removed, But Birds Can Still Be Enjoyed

by Sandy Quadros Bowles, Dartmouth Week

Although feeders, such as this one enjoyed by a goldfinch, should be removed, the birds will likely stick around if you know where to look. Photo courtesy: Dennis Wilkinson/Creative Commons

Although state officials advise the public to remove feeders and bird baths, local wildlife enthusiasts remind people that they can still view and enjoy birds without them.
“In your own backyard, you can still observe the birds’ activities as they occur in nature,’’ said Jamie Bogart, research associate at the Lloyd Center for the Environment.

Residents have been advised by state wildlife officials to remove bird feeders and bird baths after receiving reports of sick and dying birds affected by an unknown illness.

Although no cases of the mysterious condition have been reported in New England, the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has received reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs, in several states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Removing bird feeders and bird baths reduces the chance that birds will congregate and spread the illness, Mass Wildlife said. While the majority of affected birds are reported to be fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, and American robins, other species of songbirds have been reported as well. No definitive cause of illness or death has been determined.

MassWildlife is encouraging the public to report any observations of sick or dead birds as a precaution to help track this widespread mortality event. These reports should exclude cases where birds were likely killed by cats, vehicles or collisions with glass. Reports should be sent to mass.wildlife@mass.gov and include the location, number and species of birds, symptoms observed, and any photos.

Although some bird enthusiasts may be disappointed to remove feeders, they are not crucial, Bogart said. Even though many people feed birds in the summer, the provided seed is “not so much an important food source as it is in the winter,’’ Bogart said.

At this time of year, birds are able to find plenty of natural foods on the landscape without needing bird seed, MassWildlife officials said.

Seed from bird feeders can draw the unwanted attention of squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, mice and rats. Wild animals that become habituated to human-associated foods such as bird seed can become a nuisance, spread disease, and cause problems, Mass Wildlife officials said.

With feeders removed, stand near where the bird feeders were located in your yard and observe, Bogart advised. Birds will likely be flitting in nearby greenery or pecking the ground for food. Taking a 15-minute walk from your bird feeder can also open up opportunities, he said. “There really is a lot to see,’’ he noted, adding that binoculars are especially helpful.

“I’m all on board’’ with following the advice of wildlife experts, said William Gil of the Paskamansett Bird Club. “Since we know so little about this, the best thing we can do is curtail bird feeding and sanitize our bird baths.’’ The club, which is based in Dartmouth, was formed nearly 60 years ago to bring people together who love birds, according to their Facebook page.
Various activities are hosted by the club to teach people more about birding and provide opportunities for birdwatching. More information is available at ww.facebook.com/PaskamansettBirdClub.

Birding events are also hosted by other conservation organizations, including the Lloyd Center, Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust and Buzzards Bay Coalition. Preserves open to the public are another good location for bird sightings, Bogart said. This time of year, birds tend to be on the move, Bogart said, and can be seen in a variety of locations. Walk along the shoreline at Allens Pond or Horseneck Beach, for example, and take in the shore birds. Another prime birding location, he said, is Gooseberry Island in Westport. “All kinds of birds are moving through at this time,’’ he said.

To draw more birds closer to home, a healthy mix of native vegetation will draw a variety of species to backyards, according to Mass Wildlife. Native trees and shrubs that produce berries (including dogwoods, serviceberries, cherries and blueberry) provide fruit in summer and/or fall, and are much more nutritious than non-natives to birds because they are high in fats and lipids.