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Bird feeder watch: Indiana recommends taking down feeders (maybe related to cicadas); plus Stray Cast

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced it “received reports of sick and dying songbirds from 15 counties statewide.”

A still life of a bird feeder and a hanging basket. Credit: Dale Bowman
A still life of a bird feeder and a hanging basket.
Dale Bowman

Now of birds, cicadas and mysteries.

In a Friday afternoon news drop, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced it “received reports of sick and dying songbirds from 15 counties statewide. As the investigation continues, the DNR recommends all Hoosiers remove their bird feeders statewide.”

That stopped me. I love the birds my feeders draw. In summer, I have two seed feeders and a hummingbird feeder. In spring, I do an oriole feeder; in the cold months, I put up a suet feeder.

The birds bring me joy, I suspect the same of most who have feeders.

Obviously, I do not want to do anything that unduly hurts the birds at the feeders. I say unduly because in reality feeders concentrate birds and attract predators, such as Cooper’s hawks.

Among those 15 Indiana counties are Lake and Newton counties, which border Illinois in the Chicago area.

So what about Illinois?

“As of right now, there is still so much that is unknown, especially if this mystery illness even spreads from bird to bird,” replied Tara Beveroth, who does avian monitoring for the Illinois Natural History Survey. “If it is from cicadas, then the sickness should hopefully die down when they do, but if not there could be a bigger problem. I would just follow the current protocols for bird feeders and sick birds. If you see a possible sick bird take note, and also take down your feeders for at least a couple of weeks and clean them with 10-percent bleach.

“I would also recommend staying more vigilant in watching your birds as well. I have not had my feeders going for a couple of weeks now. I am watching the birds near where I live for signs of sickness as well.”

That is basically the stance, as of now, for the Illinois DNR.

“While we have not received similar reports here in Illinois, we are reminding Illinoisans it’s always a good idea to ensure bird feeders and baths are clean and maintained to help keep bird populations healthy,” emailed Rachel Torbert, IDNR deputy director.

The basics are to clean feeders and bird baths with a 10-percent bleach solution and to clean up waste grain under feeders. I lag in both. When I was taking photos, two gray squirrels were under a feeder chowing on seeds dropped by feeding birds.

In Illinois, Torbert reminded people to report sick or dying birds to a district wildlife biologist. Click here to find your area wildlife biologist.

“I think Illinois recommendations, or lack there of, should be based on appropriate data,” emailed Joel Greenberg, author of “A Natural History of the Chicago Region” and co-author with Lynne Carpenter of “A Birder’s Guide to the Chicago Region.” “If in fact the problem stems from people dousing lawns with pesticides to get rid of cicadas, which is awful and infuriating, then there may be no reason to take down feeders. If, however, the data suggest other causes, then the feeder approach might be best. Everything I have seen so far indicates there is no definitive answer yet but the pesticides remain a prime suspect.”

I told Beveroth I felt guilty for having my feeders still up.

“I would not feel guilty, at this point things are still pretty unclear!” she noted. “I also try and encourage my birds to eat from the landscape this time of year as we have some food around us, so that is another reason I am leaving my feeders empty for a while.”

Two backyard rodents squirrel away spilled grain under a bird feeder, while one bird sits and waits its turn. Credit: Dale Bowman
Two backyard rodents squirrel away spilled grain under a bird feeder, while one bird sits and waits its turn.
Dale Bowman

MANIA

Jarett Carlson, of Darien, won Skamania Mania in Michigan City, Ind., over the weekend with a 15-pound, 6-ounce steelhead. Click here for a listing on the Facebook page of the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders.

ILLINOIS HUNTING

Wednesday, June 30, is the deadline for the first lottery for free dove permits. Click here to apply.

WILD THINGS

Cornell Lab of Ornithology is offering the Merlin Bird ID app, complete with the ability to offer suggestions off bird calls (merlin.allaboutbirds.org). I have not had a chance to give it a good trial run, yet.

STRAY CAST

Out of the blue, I remember once thinking of trying to get Jimmy Carter to fly fish the Chicago River.