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.

Update on the Unknown Bird Disease

Updated 7/20/21

Mass Audubon is in conversations with MassWildlife and other colleagues about the risk posed to Massachusetts birds by the ongoing avian disease outbreak in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern US.

While the disease has not been confirmed in any areas north of New Jersey, out of an abundance of caution Mass Audubon and MassWildlife have decided to recommend taking down bird feeders and birdbaths until the current outbreak is over. Birds can find plenty of natural food and don’t depend on bird feeders, especially during the warm season.

blue jay at feeder
© Lori Lawson

Here’s what to do now:

  • Cease feeding birds (including hummingbirds) until this wildlife morbidity/mortality event subsides.
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach mixed with nine parts water), rinse with water, and allow to air-dry.
  • Avoid handling birds unless necessary. If you do handle them, wear disposable gloves and wash hands afterwards.
  • If picking up a dead bird, place an inverted plastic bag over your hand to avoid direct contact with the bird. To dispose of dead birds, place them in a plastic bag, seal, and discard with household trash or alternatively bury them deeply. 
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds as a standard precaution.

Bird mortality is always a little higher during the summer, as a good number of fledglings sadly don’t make it past their first few months.

Please email reports to Mass Wildlife via this form and include your location, number and species of birds, symptoms observed, and any photos. We will continue to monitor the situation, so stay tuned for more information as wildlife biologists monitor the current outbreak. 

July 13 Update on the Unknown Bird Disease

Please see July 14 update for latest recommendations.

An as-of-yet unidentified disease has been affecting birds across the mid-Atlantic US, leading to neurological symptoms and eye infections in several backyard species.

The disease has been observed most in fledglings of Common Grackles, Blue Jays, American Robins, and European Starlings. In areas where the disease has already spread, scientists are advising the public to take down birdfeeders and birdbaths.

The disease has not been reported in Massachusetts as of July 13, and there is no evidence that the disease poses a threat to people or to any bird species at the population level. 

Given the geographic extent of the disease so far, we are not advising the removal of feeders in Massachusetts, although this is subject change.

Stay Vigilant: Keep Feeders Clean

Blue Jay at bird feeder © Lori Lawson

Bird feeders can contribute to the spread of disease among birds by encouraging them to congregate, feed, and perch on the same surfaces during an outbreak. One recent example was the accelerated spread of Salmonella among birds during an outbreak this winter in the Pacific Northwest.

Taking feeders and birdbaths down can slow the spread of a fast-moving pathogen within a population where it’s already established, but doing so may not prevent the arrival of the pathogen into a new area altogether. 

It’s always a good idea to keep birdfeeders and birdbaths clean, though, and to avoid handling dead or diseased animals— regardless of whether or not there’s an avian disease outbreak.

We recommend cleaning feeders every two weeks (or more often with heavy use) with a 1:10 bleach-and-water solution. Always wash your hands carefully after cleaning or touching a birdfeeder.

And if you observe birds with symptoms of the mid-Atlantic disease outbreak— a crust around the eyes, muscle spasms, or paralysis, contact us or call MassWildlife.