Herring gulls are among birds more susceptible to avian flu, which in Maine will most likely be found in seabirds, especially ones that are nesting in colonies where the flu can easily spread. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

We’ve written about avian influenza a couple of times since it was first detected in Maine earlier this year, but with an increase in sick birds being reported, I wanted to reiterate some of the most important points about what you should and shouldn’t do to help birds this summer.

First, it is important to remember which birds are being affected by avian flu. It is most likely to be found in seabirds, and especially ones that are nesting in colonies where the flu can easily spread. In Maine, this is most likely to be seen in ducks like common eiders, or gulls like our ubiquitous herring gulls, or the larger great black-backed gulls. It is very unlikely that avian flu will be found in any of your backyard feeder birds like cardinals or chickadees, so there is no need to take down bird feeders. The exception to this is if you keep domestic birds (ducks, chickens, etc.) that could come in contact with wild birds (ducks and gulls) also feeding in your yard; if that is the case, you should stop feeding in any way that would bring those birds together.

If you do find any sick birds, it is best to leave them alone. Do not touch or remove any sick or dead birds that are found for fear of spreading the disease. Trying to bring sick birds to a rehabilitator could risk spreading the flu to their current patients. Although rare, avian flu can also be contracted by humans, so it is again best to just leave any sick or dead birds alone this summer.

I’ll use this opportunity to again remind everyone to keep your bird feeders clean. In the warm (and sometimes wet) summer months it is easy for bacteria to grow on your bird feeders. Cleaning them regularly (weekly) with a diluted bleach solution, or vinegar, will help keep your backyard birds safe.

FINAL PUSH FOR MAINE BIRD ATLAS

With about one month to go in the nesting season, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked recently is, “How is the Maine Bird Atlas going?” The Maine Bird Atlas is a project by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that is mapping the breeding (and wintering) distributions of Maine’s birds. This is a five-year effort that began in 2018, making this summer our last field season to collect data on our breeding birds. The project will be successful thanks to the more than 5,000 citizen scientists that have contributed their observations from all across the state.

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Saying we’ve had observations from across the state is a bit of an understatement. We divided the state up into survey areas called “blocks” which are 9 square miles, and statewide there are 4,080 of them. As of early July, 89% of all of those blocks have had at least some survey effort done in them, which is truly incredible when you start looking at how much of the state is just barely accessible. We know surveying all 4,080 blocks is impossible, especially given the effort it takes to survey them effectively (or “complete” a block), so we identified about one quarter of them that are considered “priority blocks.” Of these 974 priority blocks, all have had at least some data submitted, and 88% are currently completed.

Many of these remaining priority blocks are in remote areas of the state, but knowing how many people are wandering “upta camp” in the coming weeks, I wanted to make a plug to consider helping us finish this project off. It is easy to get involved and we’ve put together all the tools you’ll need on the project website: maine.gov/birdatlas. If you are brand new, the “Get Started” button will walk you through the basics of what we are looking for and how to submit sightings.

There is also a “Where to Atlas” button that shows exactly where our remaining priority blocks are, and clicking on each one will tell you how much effort is needed to complete it. You can always join me on Thursday nights for our weekly Zoom Q&A (link on the “Calendar of Events” tab on maine.gov/birdatlas) to learn more and even join one of our dedicated “blockbusting” trips!

Our volunteers have been absolutely amazing. Collectively, more than 93,000 hours of survey effort has gone into just the breeding portion of the atlas, not to mention the time spent traveling, planning, etc. Over the last weekend of June, Maine competed in the second-annual “Big Atlas Weekend,” a friendly competition between Maine, New York, Maryland-DC, North Carolina, Ontario, and Newfoundland (all regions currently doing a breeding bird atlas) to encourage people to get out atlasing in a fun and community building way. Long story short, Maine defended its title and will hold onto the trophy (the Canary Cup) for our final year!

I cannot thank our volunteers enough for all their efforts on the Maine Bird Atlas. Results from this will be used to update the state’s wildlife action plans and will be incredibly helpful in saving and protecting Maine’s birds. If you have time this summer, consider checking out the links mentioned above and help us cross the finish line this summer with 100% of our priority blocks completed.

Do you have questions or topics for Doug that you would like him to address in future columns? Email questions to [email protected] and visit maineaudubon.org to learn more about backyard birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug leads free bird walks on Thursday mornings, 7 to 9 a.m., at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.


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