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To Stop Spread Of Avian Disease, Mass. Officials Ask Residents To Put Away Birdbaths, Feeders

Wildlife biologists have received reports of sick and dying songbirds in some mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. There's no evidence the disease has reached New England, but Massachusetts officials are asking birdwatchers to take preventative steps.

The unnamed disease is affecting young birds in species like common grackles, blue jays, European starlings and American robins whose eyes appear swollen with a crusty discharge. The affected birds may also be trembling or falling over.

Marion Larson of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife said the agency is advising people to remove birdbaths and feeders, clean them with a bleach solution, and not set them up again until the risk of the disease has subsided.

Larson said one problem is groups of birds congregate at feeders.

"When you have birds close together, they have more opportunity to spread diseases and parasites amongst themselves," she said.

Larson said even though the disease hasn't been seen in Massachusetts, the state is asking people to take action to prevent its spread. Officials are also asking the public to report sightings of sick or dead birds unrelated to a predator attack or a collision with cars or windows.

Massachusetts already advises people to have bird feeders up only when bears are hibernating, from mid-December through February, to keep them out of neighborhoods.

Larson said an alternative way to attract birds is to plant native plants and shrubs that provide shelter and food.

Copyright 2021 New England Public Media

Nancy Eve Cohen is a freelance reporter at New England Public Radio.