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
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.
Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth”, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States each year on June 19. Because the enslaved ancestors of many Black Americans were not free on July 4, 1776, many consider Juneteenth their true Independence Day and a day to celebrate Black history, culture, joy, and family.
Notably, this year is the first time that Juneteenth will be observed as an official state holiday in Massachusetts: State Representative Bud L. Williams of Springfield added the measure to a coronavirus spending bill and Governor Charlie Baker signed it into law in July 2020, noting that Juneteenth is “an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the goal of creating a more equal and just society.”
In addition to being a day of celebration and remembrance, Juneteenth is also an opportunity for reflection on the history of slavery and systemic racism in this country and the impact it continues to have today.
Below is a roundup of resources we’ve gathered in honor of Juneteenth: organizations that are celebrating Black people in nature, as well as some things to read, watch, listen to, and follow at the intersections of blackness, nature, science, environmental justice, and racial justice. There are also great resources in last year’s Juneteenth blog post that are still relevant and worth a read or revisit.
If you are looking for opportunities to experience and connect to nature with other Black folks, or want to support the movement to diversify the outdoors and make nature accessible to all, these organizations are a terrific place to start:
Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting-edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature with more than 80 leaders in 42 cities around the country. Join their community for meaningful opportunities to get outdoors and to support their work to ensure that Black people have access, representation, meaningful participation, and quality nature-based experiences.
The Black Outdoors works to increase awareness of and participation in outdoor recreational activity amongst black people and other underrepresented groups. They offer tips and tricks for navigating the outdoors, recommendations and reviews on places to visit, information about what kinds of gear you might need, and stories from people of color who are engaging with the natural world and finding escape, adventure, solitude, and community in the outdoors.
The Rusty Anvil, based in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, reconnects BIPOC folks to nature through mindful wilderness trips and place-based skills that provide space for self-reflection and healing, intimacy with nature, and conscious environmental stewardship for BIPOC individuals.
Unlikely Hikers is a diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring outdoorspeople that are underrepresented in the media and outdoor industry, including people of size, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans and non-binary people, people with disabilities, and people who utilize the outdoors to aid their mental health.
Diversify Outdoors is a coalition of social media influencers—bloggers, athletes, activists, and entrepreneurs—who share the goal of promoting diversity in outdoor spaces where BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other diverse identities have historically been marginalized and silenced. Sign up for their newsletter and follow their hashtag #DiversifyOutdoors on social media to join the movement.
Last June, a Black birder named Christian Cooper was birding in Central Park when he recorded a video of a confrontation he had with a White woman who threatened to falsely tell the police that Cooper was threatening her life after he asked her to follow the posted dog leash law. In September, Cooper—who is also a former writer and editor for Marvel Comics—turned his experience into a graphic novel called It’s a Bird, which is free to read on certain digital platforms.
Co-organizers of the first Black Birders Week talk about the joy of the natural world and the work outdoor-focused groups need to do to reduce racism and promote inclusion in this 2020 interview from Scientific American.
Recordings of many of the presentations and events that took place as part of Black Birders Week 2021 are still available for viewing on the Black AF in Stem website, including collaborations with US Fish and Wildlife and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Racism makes our economy worse—and not just in ways that harm people of color, says public policy expert Heather C. McGhee in her 2019 Ted Talk. From her research and travels across the US, McGhee shares startling insights into how racism fuels bad policymaking and drains our economic potential and demonstrates how racism has a cost for everyone, beginning with examples of countless municipalities across the U.S. that closed their public parks, pools, and schools in response to desegregation orders throughout the 1960s, depriving Americans of all races of access to nature and the outdoors.
From Gimlet Media’s How to Save a Planet podcast, learn about why the fight for racial justice is critical to saving the planet, and what the broader climate and environmental movements need to learn from the Black Lives Matter movement to be successful.
From the REI Co-op Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast, check out an interview with Black Birders Week organizer Corina Newsome, where she talks about how she fell in love with birds and the “treasure hunt” of birding, the circumstances that inspired Black Birders Week, and what it’s like being a Black woman in the outdoors.
Science Friday (SciFri) producer Christie Taylor talks to herpetologist Chelsea Connor, a co-founder of Black Birders Week, about her relationship with the outdoors, and what comes next for creating and maintaining spaces where Black scientists can thrive.
The Unlikely Hikers Podcast with Jenny Bruso features diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating stories from people underrepresented in outdoor media and culture.
Follow the hashtags #BlackinNature and #DiversifyOutdoors on most social media platforms to join the conversation and movement for equity and access to the outdoors for all.
Creators of Black Birders Week, the Black AF in Stem Collective (@BlackAFinSTEM on Instagram and Twitter) is a group of unapologetically Black scientists studying topics in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The hilarious Alexis Nikole—a.k.a. The Black Forager (@BlackForager on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter)—is a foraging expert and lover of environmental science, ethnobotany, and free food. Follow her on the platform of your choice for laughs and learning as she takes you on her adventures in foraging and cooking with wild food.
Bird-a-thon, which took place May 14-15, was a great time to get outside to bird and enjoy nature. About 1,000 participants trekked out across their state, or stayed close home, to spot bird species, search for items on our 125th anniversary scavenger hunt, and/or complete nature activities like drawing a picture of a bird and playing nature bingo.
The weather was amazing, the birding spectacular (including sightings of a Tropical Kingbird, Swallow-tailed Kite, White-faced Ibis, Pacific Loon, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, Thick-billed Murre, Red-headed Woodpecker, Summer Tanager, and Prothonotary Warbler), and the fact that we could bird safely together again made moods soar.
Check out some favorite social shares, scroll down for results, and show our sponsors some love!
It’s a Waiting Game
“Chimney Swift” Sees a Baltimore Oriole
Nature Activity Fun
Follow the Leader
Crushing the Scavenger Hunt
Creating Bird Art
View more photos in the online photo gallery. Feel free to add your own Bird-a-thon pictures as well, and please be sure to include your name in the file name so we know who to credit.
Our 13 teams recorded an impressive combined total of 274 bird species in Massachusetts. Great job! We’ve finished tallying the species and activity lists and are excited to announce the winners of the 2021 Bird-a-thon birding and points awards.
Congratulations to our winning teams!
Brewster Cup (most species recorded statewide)
Team Metro South with 245 species
Forbush Award (2nd place in species recorded statewide)
Team Metro West with 238 species
County Cup (highest percentage of county par value)
Team West (Berkshire County, 146/142, 103%)
Sitting Duck Award (most species recorded while staying within a 25-foot circle)
Team West with 110 species
Eagle Eye Award (highest average number of activity points)
Team Cape Cod with 60 activity points
Mighty Migrant Award (highest average number of species points)
Team Central with 100 species points
It’s Not Too Late to Get Involved
The birding may be over, but fundraising is open through Friday, June 11! So far we’ve raised over $270,000 to support nature education, land and wildlife stewardship, and so much more. We can’t thank you enough for your generous support.
Water chestnut is an invasive plant that wreaks havoc on native plant and animal life, chokes out waterways, and interferes with recreation. Enjoy a beautiful day on the water pulling water chestnut and helping to preserve the habitat of this vulnerable waterway. This project was made possible through our cooperation with the Connecticut River Conservancy. Registration is required.This event was rescheduled from June 4 to June 11.
Walk the trails at Tidmarsh on a regular basis, taking notes about seasonal changes, reporting changes to the property including potentially hazardous or unpleasant trail conditions (storm damage, trash, tracks), and more.
Blaze new trails and construct trail features along 9 miles of trails, helping to preserve the ecological integrity of areas in and around the sanctuary. Examples of projects include trail maintenance, boardwalk construction, removing invasive plants, burning brush piles, or planting native plants.
Walk trails or boundaries weekly on Oak Knoll or Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuaries and identify management problems (such as trash deposits, tracks of motorized vehicles, damage to natural assets); identify animal and plant species; observe and document seasonal changes (make field notes, and if possible photographs or drawings); and assist in routine maintenance of trails.
Every Wednesday morning and the 1st Saturday of every month help care for the sanctuary and enjoy a few hours of fresh air, fun and fulfillment. Help put up signs and markers, look for wildlife tracks, pick up branches, fill the bird feeders, and more.
Every Thursday morning you can help with projects, gardening, hiking trails, or other needed work around the Sanctuary. And Thursday afternoons, work alongside knowledgeable garden volunteers and learn about which plants provide food for Island butterflies and birds.
After the global success of its inaugural year, #BlackBirdersWeek returns Sunday, May 30 through Saturday, June 5, 2021!
Organized by Black AF in STEM, a collective of unapologetically Black scientists studying topics in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, this year’s event will showcase the many unique ways Black people connect in the outdoors.
The week’s lineup includes nationwide birding events, live-streamed panel discussions, and daily interactive themes, some of which are produced in partnership with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Collective, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and more.
Be sure to check out the schedule of events for Black Birders Week 2021 on their website, and follow @BlackAFinSTEM on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for updates about daily activities and entry links for a daily giveaway!
Black Birders Week at Mass Audubon
In addition to spreading the word about Black Birders Week and the official lineup of events, Mass Audubon is also offering the following free events to celebrate locally.
Virtual Conversation with Dr. J. Drew Lanham
The On Belonging In Outdoor Spaces speaker series concludes on Wednesday, June 2 with a talk featuring Dr. J. Drew Lanham on “Coloring the Conservation Conversation,” moderated by Mass Audubon’s president David O’Neill. Dr. Lanham will discuss what it means to embrace the full breadth of his African-American heritage and his deep kinship to nature and adoration of birds. He will also examine how conservation must be a rigorous science and evocative art, inviting diversity and race to play active roles in celebrating our natural world.
Join local naturalist John Green for a Black Birders Week bird walk at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton/Northampton on Thursday, June 3, to explore the birds of Arcadia at the end of the busy spring migration season.
The Boston Nature Center and our partners at the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition are sponsoring three Black Birders Week bird walks and a family program from Wednesday, June 2 to Saturday, June 5. Observe birds in a unique urban habitat and practice finding and identifying birds through field marks, sounds, and behaviors. Birders of all levels will enjoy these guided walks.
Virtual Storytelling Event
On Saturday, June 5, professional storyteller Ben Cunningham will share bird and wildlife folktales and stories from around the world in a free, virtual storytelling program, followed by a 15-minute Q&A with the performer. This event is free to register, but we ask that you consider making a donation to our partner Outdoor Afro, an organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.
Great Horned Owls are one of the earliest birds to breed in Massachusetts, with courtship beginning as early as December. They are not cavity nesters, but use old Red-tailed Hawk or Great Blue Heron nests, often at the top of dead tree snags. With a little luck, you may be able to spot the still-downy heads of fledglings sticking up over the edges of these large nests.
Around six weeks of age, baby Great Horned Owls begin to venture out of the nest onto nearby branches, a behavior called (appropriately) “branching.” Because their wings are not yet fully developed, they use their talons to grip branches and move around.
After another week or so, their wings and confidence have strengthened enough to try out a few awkward test flights, but they usually bungle it more often than they succeed in the beginning. This can lead to some comical situations with confused, panicky youngsters finding themselves hanging upside down from tree branches or even on the ground, sharply clacking their bills and wearing a bewildered expression. Appearances to the contrary, they are perfectly fine and will return to the safety of their nests after a brief period of recovery.
So if you come across a fluffy fledgling looking a bit disgruntled on the ground, there’s no need to worry—the parents are almost certainly nearby keeping a watchful, stoic eye while their little ones blunder their way through adolescence. Keep a respectful distance to ensure you don’t inadvertently cause them further stress, and enjoy a quiet chuckle of commiseration—after all, who hasn’t been through an awkward growth spurt or two?
Enjoy these five photos of Great Horned Owlets from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2021 contest will be opening in early June, so get your cameras ready and get outdoors!
Mass Audubon protects dozens of endangered species with different strategies from habitat protection, science-based management plans, and advocacy. Here are just a few of the ways we’re watching out for rare and declining wildlife.
Helping Shorebirds Share the Beach
Piping Plovers and Least Terns nest on the ground along Massachusetts’ sandy beaches, but they need space to raise their fluffy, tennis ball-sized chicks.
Mass Audubon protects nearly half of the state’s Piping Plover and Least Tern population from shoreline development and human disturbance, and works with the state to manage the rest under our Coastal Waterbird Program.
While most people notice Mass Audubon’s effort to directly protect shorebird nests—sometimes including ranger patrols or symbolic fencing to keep beachgoers a healthy distance from nests— the Costal Waterbird Program also works through environmental education and science-based political advocacy.
Thanks to these efforts, Piping Plovers have rebounded from 135 pairs in 1986 to more than 800 pairs in 2020, and they’re still on the upswing!
Keeping Sea Turtles out of the Cold
Every November, volunteers and staff from Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescue cold-stunned sea turtles from the chilly shores of Cape Cod Bay. Most of them are the smallest and rarest of the sea turtles, the Kemp’s Ridley, which are already threatened by abandoned fishing gear and plastic pollution.
Climate change is driving an increase in autumn strandings. Ironically, warmer waters in summertime mean more Kemp’s Ridleys—which normally stay south of Cape Cod— are migrating further north. When waters cool and turtle instincts say “go south,” turtles are trapped by the unique shape of Cape Cod and often become hypothermic before they make it around the tip of the Cape.
Since the 90s, the average number turtles in Cape Cod Bay—and the average number of strandings—has skyrocketed. Normally, Mass Audubon partners with the New England Aquarium to rehabilitate and release cold-stunned sea turtles. This past winter, there were so many strandings that we had to send them to facilities as far away as Houston for treatment and release!
Advocating for Legal Protections
While many species are threatened or declining, the word “endangered” only refers to a species that’s protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (or the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, which protects species at risk locally in Massachusetts). These laws require the state and federal government to monitor and conserve habitat for species at risk of extinction
Outside of directly protecting rare wildlife on our sanctuaries, one of the most powerful things we can do for rare species is advocate for their legal protection. After our Breeding Bird Atlas showed precipitous declines in Saltmarsh Sparrows, American Kestrels, and Eastern Meadowlarks, Mass Audubon petitioned the state to list each species as Endangered. We also stand up for the both the federal and Massachusetts Endangered Species Acts when they’re under attack.
People are buzzing with excitement (and maybe a little fear) about the possibility of billions of cicadas emerging after almost two decades of living underground. If you fall into the excitement category and hoping to witness this phenomenon here in Massachusetts, alas, you’ll have to hold on for a few years.
When they emerge after 17 years underground, swarms of Cicada Brood X could be spotted in parts of the Southeast, Midwest, and North Atlantic. While we may not experience the 2021 version this event, we do have our fair share of annual cicadas that contribute our summer soundtrack.
Cicadas in Massachusetts
Of the more than 2,000 species of cicadas that exist worldwide, nine species have been documented in Massachusetts including one periodical cicada species and eight annual cicada species. The most common cicada here in Massachusetts is the “Dog Day” Cicada.
The annual, dog day cicada emerges every one or two years. It’s approximately 2.25 inches long, medium brown, with a green venation (the vein structure in its wing). Though we hear them each summer, these cicadas are solitary insects; we seldom see them.
Cicadas are sometimes referred to as harvester flies because their “song” is characteristic of late summer days. This astonishingly loud sound comes from a pair of organs called tympana located at the base of the males’ abdomen.
The tympana are complex mechanisms that consist of a series of three membranes inside a resonating chamber. A powerful muscle flexes one of these membranes (the tymbal), somewhat in the way we pull and release a metal, can top to create a loud click. Done in rapid succession and amplified by the resonating chamber, the familiar whine is produced.
Mark Your Calendar
We may not witness Brood X this year, but those in Southeastern Mass or on the Cape and Islands can anticipate being treated to Brood XIV, emerging summer 2025.
Bird-a-thon is a wrap! How did you and your team fair? Spot any cool warblers?
For those new to the tradition, Bird-a-thon is Mass Audubon’s big annual fundraiser and birding competition, in which teams compete head-to-head by earning points from birding and nature activities and by birding in strategic sub-groups in an effort to identify the greatest number of bird species in 24 hours. The event takes place in mid-May, in large part because it’s peak migration season in Massachusetts for many of our migratory bird species.
One group that gets a lion’s share of the attention? Warblers. Each spring, thousands of warblers fly north from their southern winter homes to breed and raise their young, delighting us with their bright colors and distinctive markings.
With more than 30 species of warblers annually occurring in Massachusetts, these colorful avian sprites are consistently among the favorites of birdwatchers everywhere. They consistently both challenge and seduce birders with their animated but sometimes elusive behavior, preference for sheltered forest canopy, and frequently difficult-to-distinguish songs.
Below are five photos of beautiful, bright warblers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest to celebrate the end of another successful Bird-a-thon. And check out the hundreds of birding programs happening at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries across the state this spring and summer. May you be blessed with a wealth of warblers!
American Kestrels are charismatic and iconic. They are also experiencing widespread declines. To help raise awareness, support, and celebrate this small but mighty falcon, Mass Audubon is collaborating with True North Ale Company of Ipswich, MA, on the release of Kestrel, a limited-edition American IPA.
About American Kestrels
A few decades ago, American Kestrels could be seen hovering and dropping on their prey in just about every open field of sufficient size in Massachusetts. These days, however, our smallest falcon is becoming harder and harder to find and, as a result, is included as a Species of Greatest Conservation Concern in the wildlife action plans of all six New England states.
Mass Audubon is expanding the grassland habitat at many wildlife sanctuaries to support kestrels and other grassland birds. For example, just five miles from True North Ale Company (as the kestrel flies), Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield has added additional acreage of open fields and a nest box for kestrels over the last few years, in the hope that more habitat will help boost the birds’ numbers.
Where to Find Kestrels and the Kestrel IPA
Kestrels are birds of open fields and meadows. One can be seen perching on a fencepost or snag, bobbing its tail as it surveys its surrounding. When a good perch is not available, it hunts from the air, hovering in place in a technique called “kiting.”
Perhaps easier to find, the Kestrel American IPA will be widely available in select stores across the state (including Trader Joe’s and Total Wine & Spirits) as well as several restaurants. Better yet, sample the ale at the source at the True North Ale Company taproom in Ipswich, MA.
And on Saturday, June 5, a Mass Audubon naturalist from Blue Hills Trailside Museum will be at True North’s outdoor beer garden from 1:30–3:30 pm with an American Kestrel, one of our animal ambassadors that cannot survive in the wild. Stick around for live music and a food truck!
You can also support our habitat preservation and restoration work directly by learning more about land conservation and getting involved with our work. Together, we can shape the future of our state’s landscape to support all the wildlife and people that call it home. And that’s a dream we’ll drink to!