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State urges bird lovers to take down their feeders now due to mystery songbird killer spreading across the eastern US

Update, 8/26: It's safe to put the feeders back up.

The state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is urging people to take down their bird feeders - and stow away their bird baths - because of a mystery illness that is killing birds across the eastern US that might spread where birds congregate.

Although whatever it is has yet to get to New England, it may only be a matter of time, so better safe than sorry, the division says.

Birds congregating at bird feeders and bird baths can transmit diseases to one another.

The division adds, however, that hummingbird feeders are OK - the smallest of birds seem unaffected so far by the mystery ailment.

In late May, wildlife managers in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs. More recently, additional reports have been received from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. While the majority of affected birds are reported to be fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, and American robins, other species of songbirds have been reported as well. No definitive cause(s) of illness or death have been determined at this time.

State wildlife biologists are also asking for residents to report any unusual bird die offs they spot - and to "include your location, number and species of birds, symptoms observed, and any photos." The division add you don't have to report dead birds that seemed to have gotten that way because they flew into glass or were attacked by cats.

In Arlington, VA, people began noticing lots of dead and sick birds in May:

Dead birds have become an eerily common sight along local roads and sidewalks, and a common discussion thread in local Nextdoor groups.

Pennsylvania and Delaware are also on alert. So is New Jersey.

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Comments

Should we be considering 6-foot separation and mask requirements for birds?

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Voting closed 37

that this could be related to pesticides sprayed for cicadas, which would be awful. Or, arguably less horribly, related to toxins bioaccumulated in cicada larvae (heavy metals, pesticides) or even the fungus that affects this cicada brood.

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Voting closed 30

I hope no one is really doing that, no need to, they are harmless and super cool. (Not even sure that pesticides would really work on them very well.)

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Voting closed 35

I'm so darn envious of friends who live further south and get to enjoy the singing and dancing show. The only thing we get every 17 years is another brood of life science buildings.

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Voting closed 64

Good one!

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Voting closed 27

about every 17 minutes

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Voting closed 36

but in retrospect I would be totally unsurprised to find people pointlessly laying down broad-spectrum pesticides because they thought it would do anything.

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Voting closed 31

to show up and claim that actually this is no worse than any other bird disease and therefore they don't need to get rid of their feeders and obviously the experts are all wrong here and its time for us to stop living in fear.

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Voting closed 39

but honestly, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of hearing people proclaim misguided ideas. It hurts all of us, but mostly it hurts themselves and they do not understand that. It's really a damn shame, we've gotten so far in building a modern society and yet we still have so far to go for some more than others. And they don't seem to want to go with us. What a wonderful negative feedback loop.

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Voting closed 32

I'm tired of it. I'm tired of hearing people proclaim misguided ideas. It hurts all of us, but mostly it hurts themselves and they do not understand that. It's really a damn shame, we've gotten so far in building a modern society and yet we still have so far to go for some more than others.

As Sam Rayburn said, any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one. When jackasses invited into the parlor instead of sent to the back 40, a lot of people just find it much easier and nearly as rewarding to be a jackass.

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Voting closed 25

Many sources advise not even having feeders out during the summer when there is plenty of food available elsewhere.

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Voting closed 42

The adult birds may need some extra calories while feeding the babies, but the babies need to learn to forage for their own survival. If they just learn to eat birdseed they might be in trouble later on.

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What about people feeding wildlife in Boston Common?

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Voting closed 27

You're not from Boston.

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The problem with feeders and bird baths is that they bring birds in close contact with each other so dangerous viruses and bacteria are more likely to be exchanged.
Birdseed that is broadcast over a large area is probably okay, though don’t quote me.

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Voting closed 31

trolls on the Internet?

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Voting closed 33

Mass Audubon, which was saying "not a problem here in Mass. yet." is now saying "out of an abundance of caution, take down the feeders and birdbaths.

https://www.massaudubon.org/

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Voting closed 32

I admit I’m conflicted over this.

I have a birdbath. It gets clean water every day, sometimes multiple times a day. It gets scrubbed at least once a week, and daily if it’s sunny enough to grow algae.

But I don’t have it for the birds. I fact, it’s deliberately placed in a sunny, open/uncovered place to make birds as uncomfortable as possible.

I have it to make sure the squirrels and chipmunks have a place to get water that is not my vegetable garden/tomato plants. I think I get twice as many squirrels as birds.

If there’s a verified case in MA, it’ll be down within the day, but prior to the rains it was serving as a well frequented varmint watering hole.

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Voting closed 30

You could just bring in the Chinese needle snakes. They would take care of the squirrels right away.

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Voting closed 29

are you willing to unleash?

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Voting closed 25

I hate to take down my birdbath. It gets a lot of business, leading me to believe it's one of the only consistent sources of water in this general area. We also get the occasional bee having a drink. I realize the importance of containing whatever illness is killing the birds, but I still feel bad about taking the bath away.

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Voting closed 24

Looking at my bird feeder right now... feeling pretty awful about not refilling the birdseed and replacing the suet. The little birds are perched on top of the feeder waiting for me to do it. :(

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Voting closed 35

At this time of year, birds should be fine without feeders. Hopefully, by the time migration season rolls around, it will be safe to put the feeders back up.

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Voting closed 27

it's one of the only consistent sources of water in this general area

Undoubtedly

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Voting closed 21

where *are* they going to get it? In an urban environment, probably gutters. (I speak from experience.) And those gutters probably aren't getting cleaned regularly.

I suspect that providing a well-maintained source of water helps reduce crowding and reduce water-borne disease transmission, and that you'd be better off keeping it up.

(I'm no bird expert, though!)

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Voting closed 21

but it seems to me that the actual bird experts think that taking down the birdbath is the best call here, so I feel like that should override any suspicions.

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so while I'd ordinarily just follow their advice, I'm a little more willing than usual to say "but what if they're wrong".

(I'm still trying to convince my employer to actually get some fresh air mix in the air handling system and/or commit to a certain air change rate through appropriate filters, but they're not willing to go any further than CDC recommendations, as bullshit as those are.)

I do hear you, though.

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Voting closed 19

Birds have been fine since their first existence without people. In fact, so has all wildlife.

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Voting closed 24

A robin and a grackle. No sign that these were predator-caused (or caused by wind, etc). More like they crashed into something.

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