Author Archives: William Freedberg

About William Freedberg

Studies indicate that Will Freedberg occupies the ecological niche of a semi-nocturnal generalist. His habits change seasonally, doing fieldwork and bird surveys in the summer, but also blogging, coordinating volunteers, taking photos, and doing background research. Life history traits include growing up in Boston and reluctantly graduating from Yale College. Behavioral research shows that William occasionally migrates to the tropics to seek out Hoatzins, pangolins, and sloths, but mostly socializes with his age cohort in urbanized areas of eastern North America. He is short-sighted, slow to react, and a poor swimmer.

Safe to Start Feeding Birds Again! 

Wonderful news! Based on declining reports of the mysterious avian disease in states to our south and the absence of confirmed cases in Massachusetts, we are following the lead of our neighbors and recommending it is safe to resume feeding birds.

© Paul F. Silvestri

Remember to Clean Those Feeders 

The cause of this avian disease is still unknown, but we do know that contagious avian diseases can spread at feeders. To protect birds, stay in the habit of cleaning feeders every 2 weeks using a solution of one part bleach to nine parts warm water. Soak the feeder in the solution for a few minutes, rinse, and air dry. Visit our website for more tips and FAQs on bird-feeding. 

Thank You for Heeding the Call 

Taking in feeders and birdbaths was an important precaution to keep birds safe during a period of uncertainty. We understand that this was a difficult step to take, and we appreciate the help and patience of everyone who played it safe with us.

Other threats to birds still persist. While disease outbreaks aren’t uncommon, population-level bird declines are driven by habitat loss, climate change, and mortality from building strikes and outdoor cats. Mass Audubon is working to reduce these threats to birds through habitat management, land conservation, advocacy, and education.

To help us in this work, please support Bird Conservation at Mass Audubon.

Mid-Atlantic Bird Disease Outbreak: No Change to Recommendations

Bird feeders are still empty and indoors at Mass Audubon sanctuaries (as they mostly are statewide). We miss seeing our visiting chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, and woodpeckers at our nature centers and offices!  

Keeping feeders down is still the right decision in light of the disease outbreak in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest. So far, the disease has not spread into New England, and there’s no immediate cause for concern at this point—only caution. 

Blue Jay sitting on bar copyright Richard Morreale
Blue Jay © Richard Morreale

Hold tight! 

It is possible that nothing will change for the next couple of weeks, and perhaps even the rest of the summer. It’s worth checking back on this blog or on the MassWildlife website later in August for any future updates.  

Both MassWildlife and their state agency counterparts in Connecticut and Rhode Island continue to ask that people pause feeding birds statewide.

Luckily, late spring and summer are the seasons when insects, water, wild seeds, and fruits are abundant. These natural foods have sustained birds in the warm season since long before we began feeding them.

More Unknowns than Knowns 

The cause of the outbreak is still unknown, and identifying the cause of any new avian disease is a process of elimination. So far, wildlife health experts have confirmed that the disease is not due to West Nile virus, avian flu, conjunctivitis, or agricultural pesticides or herbicides. A hypothetical link to the Brood X cicada emergence in the Mid-Atlantic has also been ruled out. 

We also don’t really know if this disease can be passed from bird to bird yet. Some of the affected birds show signs of eye infections—which suggest, but do not confirm, that it’s transmissible.  

This disease spread rapidly in its early stages, though the numbers appear to be stabilizing in some states. We do know that birdfeeders and birdbaths have in the past facilitated other outbreaks of disease, like salmonella and conjunctivitis, because they provide shared surfaces where birds congregate densely and frequently.  

By temporarily removing your feeders and bird baths, you are reducing the chances that this disease will spread into Massachusetts. Thank you. We can’t wait to get back to feeding birds as soon as it’s prudent, and we’ll be sure to let you know when that is.