Category Archives: Get Involved

Help With A Breeding Songbird Forest Survey  

Mass Audubon is looking to get a better understanding about the health of our forests by determining the state of breeding songbird populations at several of our wildlife sanctuaries including Graves Farm (Williamsburg), Pleasant Valley (Lenox), and Wachusett Meadow (Princeton).

Scarlet Tanager

For this pilot study, we’re looking to: 

  • assess a new approach to breeding bird surveys using smartphone technology
  • broaden the accessibility of birding through smartphone apps
  • understand the relationship between birds and other elements of forest biodiversity

Who Can Participate 

Anyone from “advanced” beginners to experts are welcome to participate. You need to be comfortable traveling off-trail on uneven terrain and must be adept with current technology for navigation and data collection purposes. All participants need a smartphone with the free Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin ID app, eBird, and ArcGIS Field Map downloaded. Advanced birders can help us evaluate the accuracy of the Merlin ID app, while beginners have an opportunity to train their birding skills and contribute to conservation science at the same time.

What Volunteers Will Do 

During the month of June, volunteers will bushwhack off-trail to forest sampling locations for about 2-3 miles in total in pairs once per week to listen for birds for 10 minutes. When at the sampling location, volunteers will use the Merlin app to identify and record species’ sounds.

Once all surveys have been completed, each species recording will be checked against pre-recordings of its known calls to double check results. After the check is completed, the findings will be recorded in the eBird app.  

How to Sign Up 

If you’re interested in volunteering, you will be required to attend a training session (May 31, 8:30-11:30 am, for Graves Farm; tbd for Pleasant Valley and Wachusett Meadow). To sign up, please email [email protected]

Bald Eagles are Dying. Rat Poison is to Blame.  

The death of a Bald Eagle this week after ingesting rat poison is a heartbreaking reminder that we are overdue for critically-needed changes to pest control policies to limit the use of these poisons.  

This is now the third bald eagle death due to rodenticides in Massachusetts in two years. 

Bald Eagle in a Tree
© John Derbort

Why Is This Happening? 

Anticoagulant rodenticides  kill rodents by preventing blood from clotting, causing the animal to die from internal bleeding. These poisons can have unintended victims when wildlife, like hawks, owls, eagles, or foxes, eat prey that has consumed the bait.  

Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs ) are especially problematic because they don’t kill rodents immediately. Rodents poisoned with SGARs can still live for a few days and consume more poisoned bait during that time; the delay means they can ingest enough poison to kill a much larger animal.  Rodents weakened by poison make easy prey, and some wildlife such as eagles also consume dead animals, where the poison lingers. 

Aren’t These Poisons Regulated? 

SGARs have been banned by the EPA from the consumer market, but licensed exterminators are still allowed to deploy them. Other rodenticides, called first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides and non-anticoagulant rodenticides, are still approved for residential consumer use.

The issue of wildlife becoming the unintended victims of these poisons is a growing problem. Nearly every raptor species is vulnerable to rodenticide poisoning. For example, a 2020 study found that 100% of tested Red-tailed Hawks at Tufts Wildlife Clinic had been exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides. Secondary poisoning has also been documented in species like foxes, bobcats, and coyotes. SGARs are a threat to eagle populations nationally  

The irony is that the more these predator species are harmed or killed by SGARs, the fewer predators there are to keep rat populations in check. Rodents breed much faster than predators. When predators are killed off by poisons, the rodent population can multiply even more quickly.  

Other Options to Control Rodents 

With rat populations on the rise, many communities are seeking effective pest control measures. Fortunately, we have many poison-free options for preventing and addressing rodent problems. The most important preventative measure is eliminating food sources and entry points: securing trash in rodent-proof containers and sealing holes in building foundations to exclude rats and other pests.   

To kill rodents, traps can be used without harming other wildlife. If the situation necessitates hiring a pest control company, choosing one that fully utilizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can also have a big impact in reducing widespread pesticide use. IPM relies on a series of pest management evaluations, and its strategies can include trapping, sealing up entry holes in foundations, walls, and roofs, and removing or trimming vegetation that obscures the ground.  When hiring a licensed pest control company, specifically request that poisons not be used and ask for confirmation of that on your written agreement with the company. 

We also need laws to regulate the pesticides that do continue to be used. Mass Audubon and our partners are advocating for the passage of An Act relative to pesticides. This legislationwould better regulate the use of SGARs, in turn reducing their impacts on birds of prey and other wildlife. The bill would:  

  • Increase use of IPM strategies in Massachusetts  
  • Educate consumers about the benefits of IPM and impacts of SGARs  
  • Require digitization of pesticide use forms, making them more accessible and searchable  

Speak Up for Wildlife 

An Act relative to pesticides had a strong chance to pass last year when the House and Senate reached a consensus on the bill’s content, but was a casualty of an end-of-year logjam in the state legislature, falling just a few procedural votes short of passage. This was a huge missed opportunity, so we need to rebuild momentum now to ensure it passes as soon as possible. 

Urge your state legislators  to support An Act relative to pesticides (S.487/H.725) today! By improving our approaches to pest management, we can reduce the need for rodenticides at their source and prevent more senseless wildlife deaths.