Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Mystery Disease Abating – Safe to Feed Birds
August 06, 2021
By Steve Grinley
The latest word on the mysterious disease that affected birds in the mid-Atlantic states recently is that the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab has received widespread reports in the past weeks of declining cases of the disease. Though the cause is still under investigation, some experts now believe that there is a close correlation between the appearance of this disease and the emergence of cicadas in that area. It could be that the immature large songbirds ingested a fungus in the cicadas, or a toxin that individuals may have used to control the cicadas. Now that the cicadas are retreating, the number of cases of this disease in birds has also declined.
The bottom line seems to be that there is not, and probably never was, a threat to songbirds anywhere in New England. For those of you who heeded warnings from state and private organizations and took down your feeders, it is fine to put them back up! Young birds are still being fed and the supplemental food does help. Goldfinches are at the peak of their breeding season this time of year!
Please continue to be diligent at cleaning your feeders and bird baths. It will keep our birds happy and healthy. Let’s get back to enjoying the birds in the backyard, especially the antics of the young birds trying to mooch off their parents while learning their own way around feeders. The hummingbirds are still enjoying their flowers and nectar feeders, and a few orioles and catbirds continue visiting offerings of grape jelly.
Meanwhile, the nice weather that we have been enjoying encourages us to get out and explore more birds around us. The greenheads have subsided around the marshes and beaches, just in time for the returning shorebirds. The shorebirds are returning to the mudflats and fresh water pannes, though in small numbers so far. But the variety has been increasing, so you can easily see a dozen or more species feeding during high tide on Plum Island.
This past week, the flooded field at the south end of the Topsfield Fairgrounds has hosted semipalmated, least, spotted, pectoral, and solitary sandpipers, semipalmated plovers and as many as thirty-five killdeer. Also in the flooded area were glossy ibis, great blue heron, little blue heron and great egret. Swallows are flying all around there and often perch on the wires giving great views of tree, barn and bank swallows. The rattle of a kingfisher can be heard as it hunts the Ipswich River just beyond the trees.
Speaking of swallows, the annual congregation of tree swallows on Plum Island is already happening. Thousands of swallows are feeding on the berries in the dunes and insects over the cattails and phragmites in the pools. Their numbers often climb to the tens of thousands by mid August just prior to their departure south. Meanwhile, the last of the purple martins are still occupying a few gourds near Lot 1.
Also gathering in the marshes and pools are the egrets – great egrets and the smaller snowy egrets. They often will gather or “stage” in small numbers in the early evening on Plum Island before flying off to their night roost. Depending on the tide, some may roost in the marsh while others may fly as far as Kettle Island off Magnolia. Others may choose a secluded local pond with seclusion and good cover.
Do check the flocks of egrets carefully for little blue heron, green heron, black-crowned or yellow-crowned night herons. A lone roseate spoonbill found its way to Gorham, New Hampshire a week ago, so there is no telling what you might find!