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Mass WildLife warns against use of bird feeders

Birds fly against an autumn backdrop in Lanesborough, Mass., Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.
Birds fly against an autumn backdrop in Lanesborough, Mass., Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.Ben Garver/Associated Press

Massachusetts wildlife officials are asking the public to help halt the spread of a mysterious disease threatening robins, blue jays, and other songbirds.

In an advisory Wednesday, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife warned residents of a disease that’s origin and cause have not yet been identified. As a precautionary measure, state residents should temporarily remove bird feeders and baths to help curb the spread.

“Birds congregating at bird feeders and birdbaths can transmit diseases to one another,” the statement said.

The advisory comes a day after the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management responded to reports of diseased birds by asking state residents to take similar precautionary measures.


At this point, there have been no confirmed cases in New England, according to MassWildlife’s statement. However, in late May, reports of “sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs” began mounting on the desks of wildlife managers in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and other parts of the eastern US, the statement said.

The majority of affected birds are reported to be fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, and American robins.

The MassWildlife’s statement noted that increased bird mortality is natural this time of year, so seeing one dead bird may not be a cause for concern, especially if there’s evidence of a collision with glass, vehicles or cats.

However, because the origin of the disease is still unknown, MassWildlife is asking residents to report any observations of sick or dead birds to help track mortality.

If residents see birds walking unsteadily, looking disoriented, dizzy or birds with inflamed, swollen, crusted, or closed eyes, they should email a report to mass.wildlife@mass.gov with the location, number and species of birds. They should also include any symptoms observed and photos taken.


Residents should also clean their bird feeders with bleach, avoid handling and keep pets away from sick or dead birds, the advisory said.

As general guidance, the advisory reminded residents that bird feeders can draw the attention of unwanted animals like squirrels and rats, and that wild animals that develop a dependency on feeders can spread diseases and become a nuisance.

MassWildlife assured bird lovers that there is an abundance of food available for birds in the natural landscape and that residents can find natural ways to draw birds to their lawns with native plants.

Julia Carlin can be reached at julia.carlin@globe.com.