Q: Is there any truth to a salmonella epidemic at bird feeders in Berkshire County, specifically, and Massachusetts in general? Should we take down our bird feeders now? Thank you for your advice.
— William D.
A: It is true that wild birds are implicated with salmonella in eight states, but to my knowledge, not Massachusetts, according to many newspapers, including The New York Times, my source. All that I checked mentioned the eight states that excluded Massachusetts, New York and Vermont.
In the April 4 edition, Times reporter Jesus Jiménez wrote, in part, "A salmonella outbreak linked to contact with wild songbirds and bird feeders has sickened 19 people across eight states, eight of whom have been hospitalized, federal health authorities said.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating salmonella infections in California, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington State in people ranging in age from 2 months to 89 years old."
Regardless of salmonella, now is an excellent time to take in the bird feeders and clean them well. Ready yourself for hummingbird and oriole feeders.
It is primarily pine siskins and, to a lesser extent, goldfinches being infected.
Q: For the past week, a robin red breast is crashing into our [car] windows and then falling to the ground. How can we prevent this and save the bird?
— Chris and Mary Jean, Otis
A: The robin sees its reflection in your window(s) and thinking that it is competition is trying to chase it away. Move the car out of the bird's line of sight. Or put a tarp over the car during the breeding season. This should be easier than if the bird was attacking its reflection on your home’s windows.
Q: I am working on restoring an old barn. It will be a working barn — garaging a tractor and sheltering sheep. I wanted to know if you had any recommendations on what sort of bird housing might attract barn owls, barn swallows and any other species I should think about. Now is the time to incorporate into design plans!
— John H., Tyringham
A: We no longer see this particular owl here. My family had a story about my maternal grandfather, who was the caretaker of St. Joseph's Church in Pittsfield and often encountered a frightening owl in the church steeple when tending to the bell, I imagine. That was a long time ago, though.
The last nesting record for the barn owl in the Berkshires was in 1952 at Unkament Farm in Pittsfield. In addition to St. Joseph's Church, breeding locations included the steeple of Pittsfield's South Congregational Church in 1945 and a Vandensenville church also in the 1950s.
If you want to try, Google barn owl nesting box. You will find an assortment — and more instructions than you will need. Good luck and let me know if you have any success!
Q: We want to contact some birders in Berkshire County. Is there a club or group you can suggest?
— New to Pittsfield
A: The Hoffmann Bird Club is Berkshire County's premier ornithological organization. It was established in 1940 with a mission of promoting the study of birds in the county.
Meetings are held from September through May and are open at no charge to anyone interested in birds and bird study. Membership in Hoffmann Bird Club is open to anyone interested. Membership runs from September through the following August. If you join after April 1, your membership is extended through the following year.
Field trips are led by experienced birders, and everyone, including beginners, is welcome. Field trips offer an excellent opportunity to explore first hand the bountiful nature and natural history of the Berkshire region.
The easiest way to join is by visiting: hoffmannbirdclub.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/hbc-membership-form.pdf.
For additional information, go to hoffmannbirdclub.org.
The reader, Bob, from Williamstown, could try tick tubes. They need to be put in gardens and around the lawn perimeter spring and fall and are very easy to use.
— Nancy M.
I know that starlings nest in bird boxes, but they are too large to get into bluebird boxes, the most popular box in use now. They are valuable in one important way though, they eat tons of gypsy moths and caterpillars, flies, especially larvae of crane flies, and other obnoxious insects, larvae and adults.
— Peter, Pittsfield
BALD EAGLE UPDATE
I keep getting reports by readers about American bald eagles, so this report from Fish and Wildlife caught my eye:
America's Bald Eagle Population Continues to Soar
Populations of the American bald eagle — the bold national symbol of the United States — have quadrupled since 2009, according to a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners. Bald eagles once teetered on the brink of extinction, reaching an all-time low of 417 known nesting pairs in 1963 in the lower 48 states. However, after decades of protection, the banning of the pesticide DDT, and conservation efforts with numerous partners, the bald eagle population has flourished, growing to more than 71,400 nesting pairs.
According to scientists from the service's Migratory Bird Program, the bald eagle population climbed to an estimated 316,700 individual bald eagles in the lower 48 states. This indicates the bald eagle population has continued to increase rapidly since our previous survey. The information is now available in the new technical report: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Final Report: Bald Eagle Population Size: 2020 Update.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the American people's continuing benefit.