Watching and Identifying Birds
- Where can I order bird guides and song recordings?
- I think I saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Who do I notify?
- I have a white bird at my feeder, is it an albino?
- Where can I find out about bird-watching trips?
- Where can I share my bird photos?
- Where are my hummingbirds this year? Why did my hummingbirds disappear after they arrived?
- Where can I learn more about Eastern Bluebirds or Purple Martins?
- I think I’ve spotted a rare bird in my yard. How can I be sure it is a rare bird? Should I contact somebody even if I’m not sure?
- I found a live/dead bird with a band on it. Do I need to report it?
Birds Causing a Problem
- What is that bird that is singing at night? It's driving me crazy!
- What can I do about woodpeckers pecking my house?
- Discouraging Ducks from lounging on a swimming pool deck
- Discouraging Gulls from nesting on rooftops
- What can I do about sparrows or other birds nesting on my house?
- How do I get rid of pigeons?
- Help! Canada Geese are taking over my neighborhood!
- What can I do about problem crows in my yard?
- Birds are pooping all over my deck and patio. Is bird poop dangerous?
- Why is a mockingbird attacking people walking down the sidewalk? What can I do about it?
- Why is a woodpecker damaging my house and how do I stop it?
- I have a bird banging against my window. How do I make it stop?
Feeding and Attracting Birds
- When should I start and stop feeding birds?
- Where do I get information on what to plant for birds?
- I have a hummingbird in my area past migration time and I’d like to feed it as long as it stays around, what do I need to know?
- I used to have lots of hummingbirds at my feeder, but I don't see them now. Where have all the hummingbirds gone?
- Are products that use hot peppers or their extracts to discourage squirrels at bird feeders safe for birds and squirrels? Could they get it in their eyes?
- Is organically-grown birdseed healthier for birds?
- What can I do about my Homeowners Association ban on the feeding of birds?
- What is the ideal depth of a bird bath ?
- Don’t birds freeze in the winter when they take baths?
- When is it safe to remove nests around buildings?
- How do I keep squirrels and raccoons off my feeders?
- Can feeders or bird baths make birds sick?
- Will birds’ feet stick to metal perches in winter?
- Is peanut butter or uncooked rice harmful to birds?
- Where can I get plans to build a bird house? What are the correct dimensions for each species?
Injured, Orphaned or Sick Birds
- Do you take-in injured or orphaned wildlife?
- What do I do if I find a baby bird?
- I found a baby bird that must have fallen out of the nest. What should I do?
- I found an injured/sick bird. What should I do?
- What would cause a deformed beak?
- I found a dead bird with band. What do I do with the band or the information?
- I have a bird at my feeder without head feathers
- I have a Finch at my feeder with encrusted eyes. What should I do?
- What do I do with an injured or orphaned bird?
Threats to Birds
- A development is planned for some nearby woods, and I know it’s going to harm the birds. What should I do?
- How can I keep birds from flying into my windows?
- Will pesticides hurt my yard birds?
- Cats and Birds:
- When to safely mow a field to protect nests
- Can Robins survive a snowstorm?
- What do I do about hawks at my feeders?
One good online source is Audubon's Marketplace, where you can order guide books on birds and many other natural history topics. Most bookstores carry an array of birding guides, including Audubon's, as do local bird stores.
You can also download the Audubon Bird Guide app for free, Our most recent version of the app allows you to get rare bird alerts and quickly identify species in addition to keeping a life list.
Ivory-billed woodpeckers were originally found throughout the lower Mississippi River states in large, bottomland forests. The last scientifically-confirmed sighting was in 1948, but since then sporadic sightings have led researchers to venture deep into remaining southern forests in the hope of documenting their existence. Another, more common woodpecker, the Pileated Woodpecker, is commonly mistaken for the Ivory-billed as it is a similar crow-size with a black and white body and wings, and the male and female Pileated both have the striking red crest, like the male Ivory-billed. The Pileated Woodpecker can be found throughout the Eastern and extreme Northwestern U.S. and Canada in smaller woodlots that have large, old trees for nest sites. Some even nest in tall wooden light poles on ball fields.
It's possible, but more likely it is a partial albino. Many common backyard species display a genetic mutation that affects the color of their feathers, or at least those with the pigment melanin. Only some birds are true albinos, indicated by the presence of pure white feathers, white bills, and eyes that lack pigment (so they appear pink). Partial albinos will have some white feathers (such as wings, or head) or markings combined with normal coloration on other parts. A similar condition, Leucism, is one where a bird exhibits a lighter than usual coloration, but is not pure white. This is due to a genetic mutation preventing melanin from being deposited normally on feathers. Any of these aberrations in pigment can make it tricky to identify the bird, but careful examination of its size, body features, behavior, and other birds it may be with will reveal its true identity.
Your local Audubon chapter is the first place to look, as most offer local and regional field trips throughout the year. Some even offer longer trips to other countries. Find the Audubon chapter nearest to you.
During the Great Backyard Bird Count in mid-February, you can post photos taken during the count week. Learn more about the process here. You can also upload and share images via birding and nature apps such as eBird and iNaturalist.
We often receive a number of inquiries from all over the country asking "where are my hummingbirds this year?" or "why did my hummingbirds disappear after they arrived?" There are many factors affecting how and when birds arrive during migration. Here's a region-by-region explainer for when to expect hummingbirds each spring.
The North American Bluebird Society has a wonderful website with a wealth of information about bluebird ecology and conservation and how to attract these lovely birds to your property.
The Purple Martin Conservation Association has an excellent website with a wealth of information about attracting and maintaining a martin colony.
I think I’ve spotted a rare bird in my yard. How can I be sure it is a rare bird? Should I contact somebody even if I’m not sure?
Check a number of sources to first identify the bird: your Audubon Bird Guide App, our online bird guide, or a print field guide such as the Sibley Field Guide to Birds. If you are unable to identify the bird, try to taking a picture of the bird and emailing it to an authoritative source. Your local Audubon chapter or National Audubon are both good places to start.
It's important to report banded birds, but it's not required by law. Record the number of bands, any numbers inscribed on the band, the color and order of each band, and which legs the bands are located upon. Send the information to the Bird Banding Lab's website.
If the bird is dead, leave the bird where you found it after recording the information. If you see bands on a live bird, try to use a spotting scope or binoculars to figure out the species and to determine its unique color sequence, band numbers, and location of bands
If you're unsure of what species you've found, consult our online bird guide.
If you find a banded pigeon, contact the American Racing Pigeon Union to connect a lost bird to its owner.
Birds Causing a Problem
Male Northern Mockingbirds will sing at night while their mate is sitting on eggs and he usually stops as soon as the eggs hatch. The reason he does this is not fully understood, but it may have to do with pair-bonding and territorial display. It may also be related to bright street and house lights that fool the bird into thinking it is still daylight; turning off lights may quiet the bird. The Northern Bobwhite and Eastern Screech-Owl may also be heard calling at night, but their singing is usually not as persistent or as varied as the mockingbird.
Two other nighttime singers include the Eastern Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will's-widow; insect-eating members of the nightjar family that sing to proclaim territory and maintain pair-bonds with a mate.
Other nightly singers include a host of frogs and toads, along with many kinds of crickets and their kin. While the din some of these animals produce may be annoying, imagine how frustrating our domestic noises are to wildlife; from bustling trucks and cars to raucous outdoor sporting and music events. While this is no consolation, it does underscore the old adage: One animal's concert is another's cacophony.
Male woodpeckers sometimes pound on a chimney, gutters, window shutters, and any other hard, loud and resonating object on the outside of a home to advertise their territory. Unfortunately, early morning is often the male woodpecker's favorite time to do this, and he'll select a drumming site based in part on how well the sound carries. This territorial behavior is mostly conducted during courtship and nesting and is a way for the bird to proclaim, "Hey, this is my turf!"
If a woodpecker is causing physical damage to walls and siding it may not be from territorial pronouncements but rather because there are insects in the wood that the woodpecker is trying to extract, including carpenter bees, ants, and termites. Woodpeckers rarely damage wood if they are using it to make a resonating sound.
If a woodpecker is chiseling a building in pursuit of food the remedy is to remove the food source and repair the damage. Once the food is removed the woodpecker will likely not return. If the woodpecker's activity is territorial you can try draping plastic, aluminum foil, or netting over the area. Hanging pie pans and balloons may also scare away the bird. Non-moving objects such as scarecrows and silhouettes may work initially, but birds quickly acclimate to their presence.
A motion-activated sprinkler device works very well. This and other nuisance wildlife contraptions and deterrents are available at garden stores, or on-line by searching on "nuisance wildlife products."
One deterrent that seems to work on flat roofs is to put up a series of parallel lines of wire cables or monofilament line (at least 50 lb test) across your roof —10 to 15 feet apart, about a foot above the roof. A line of cinder blocks could serve as temporary attachments for the line on either side of the roof, or attaching a series of posts to the sides of your roof. Gulls are very protective of nest sites (as you may have already found out), but if you can get them to move somewhere else they will most likely return to that new place in future years. If you have tried deterrents to no avail, then you could apply to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (regional office) for a permit to remove nests and eggs. This will also discourage re-nesting there, but you will not get a permit unless you have exhausted other deterrent methods.
Another thing you can try is a sound device designed to emit sonic or noises unpleasant to gulls. There are numerous companies that sell waterproof, pre-packaged systems that are ready to go. An Internet search on "nuisance bird products" will pull up a variety of options.
House Sparrows and European Starlings are non-native species, introduced from Europe, that have adapted to nesting on homes and other buildings since the beginnings of the Agricultural Revolution more than 10,000 years ago. They build their homes in gutters, vents, or other openings in buildings. Sparrows can gain entrance to holes as small as 1 1/4 inch diameter, while the larger starlings need holes at least 1 5/8 inch diameter.
The best way to stop these birds from nesting on your house is to block any and all possible nest holes with boards, bird netting, or any physical barrier that might be cosmetically and structurally appropriate. Birds can nest in gutter downspouts if there is a horizontal section of pipe near the entrance at the top, so avoid this gutter design. While native bird nests, eggs, and babies are protected by law and cannot be moved or destroyed, European Starlings and House Sparrows are not protected and you may legally remove them from your home or building.
For native birds such as House Finches (often nesting in hanging plants), Mourning Doves, and American Robins (nesting on ledges), Carolina Wrens (nesting in buckets, shoes, or mailboxes), or Barn Swallows (nesting over doors or on porches) it is best to discourage them before they start nesting by eliminating or blocking access to potential sites. If you want to encourage these birds to nest on your home, you can build ledges or provide nesting boxes to attract them. Since these native birds are protected and beneficial, once they are nesting they should be left alone and given as much space as possible. Their eggs are only in the nest for two weeks before they hatch, and then the young are only in the nest for two more weeks after that. Be sure to remove the nest and clean the area with a strong disinfectant after the birds are gone.
Pigeons are one of the most common birds in urban areas, where they are attracted to discarded human foods and find plenty of roosts and nesting sites on the flat rooftops and ledges of buildings, bridges, and overpasses. Pigeon droppings are usually just a nuisance; but, if left to accumulate, could transmit diseases to humans or cause structural damage to buildings or bridges.
Physical barriers usually work to keep the pigeons from landing or nesting where they are unwanted. Home or building owners can use netting, fishing line, or barriers to block access to a roost or nest site. Also, creating a greater-than-45 degree inclined slope on ledges or other flat surfaces make it hard for pigeons to land. Many safe and effective commercial products are also available including plastic or metal bird spikes. Using sticky products is not recommended as these products can get on skin and feathers causing on-going problems for the bird. If pigeons are roosting on a utility wire or other area where they can't be easily blocked, a weatherproof bird sound device that plays bird alarm or distress calls may chase them away.
After seeing declines in Canada Goose populations through the early 1900s, state and federal wildlife agencies began raising them in captivity and released them across the United States in the 1960s. These birds adopted a non-migratory lifestyle and enjoy the abundant food and protection from predators in our suburban golf courses, parks, and athletic fields. They create a problem for the public with their droppings and may charge at people during the nesting season.
Nuisance geese that are feeding on grassy areas can be moved by spraying the grass with commercial goose repellent made from a non-toxic grape extract used as a natural food flavoring. Geese that are found on a lawn, dock, or pond can be scared away by a sound device that plays goose alarm calls, or by visual deterrents like fake coyotes. Wherever possible, eliminating lawns and planting cattails or other native vegetation along the edges of ponds is also effective at getting geese to move elsewhere.
Crows are highly intelligent birds, and often hang out in family groups all year round. In some areas, they may migrate regionally, and congregate in large winter roosts. Crows can become a nuisance if they decide to roost in yards or on buildings, or if they descend on a food source like your garden or a bug-infested lawn. As with all bird nuisance problems, the birds are only doing what comes natural to them for survival; and if they are causing a problem it is usually because we have created an opportunity for them. If you can figure out what is attracting the birds, it may be possible to eliminate the attractant or make it impossible for them to take advantage of it. It may turn out, however, that the birds are doing you a favor by drawing your attention to a lawn grub infestation or something else that you need to address.
If frightening away crows is necessary, there are a variety of commercially available devices that emit predator or crow distress calls and other sounds that serve as alarms to crows and other birds. This may work for weeks at a time, or may be needed every evening as they come in to roost. For more information about crows and solving crow problems, visit the crow section of the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.
Bird poop (or guano) is usually more of a nuisance than an actual health risk, though there can be a risk of disease transmission, especially for those with weakened immune systems. Clean up with soap and hot water whenever you have contact with bird droppings. In places where you are concerned about guano from nesting or roosting, you may be able to block access to those areas with fishing line, netting, or a block of wood or Styrofoam material. Discourage perching by installing visual deterrents like shiny pinwheels, mylar flash tape, or commercially-available bird balloons. Plastic owls with "bobble" heads that move with wind can work in many situations. To clean up small messes caused by birds, use water from a hose; or for larger messes, follow these guidelines—which include using a mask or other breathing protection and protective clothing.
Northern Mockingbirds are notorious for making nests in bushes or small trees near sidewalks, then dive-bombing pedestrians thinking they are in their territory and a threat to their nest. If this is happening for the first time, and a nest has already been made, you may have to avoid the area until the young have left the nest.
Eggs hatch in two weeks, and young leave the nest two more weeks after that. Mockingbirds don't usually re-use their nests, but may return the following year to the same shrub or tree. If you notice the bird return the following year, you can try to discourage it from nesting with wind chimes, hanging metal strips, or repeated squirting with a 'super-soaker' squirt gun. This can also help discourage a loud mockingbird from singing outside your window during the night.
Woodpeckers peck at homes for three reasons. First, the fast machine-gun pecking, referred to as "drumming" is the male woodpecker's attempt to make as loud a noise as possible to attract a mate and to announce to other male woodpeckers that this is his territory. Hollow branches are usually used, but a gutter or loose siding sometimes serves as a substitute. Tightening up loose parts of the house may solve that problem. Hanging flashy objects nearby can also scare the woodpeckers away.
The second reason for pecking on homes is the birds' search for insects. If you are seeing holes drilled or chipped away, it may mean you have insects living in your external boards that the woodpecker found. Often, carpenter bees will drill holes into wood and tunnel through, laying eggs that you don't even know are there. Woodpeckers open up the tunnels from the outside and eat the hatched larvae. Attaching an untreated board onto the outside of your house for the bees will provide habitat for valuable pollinator species, and you can replace it as often as needed! Scaring woodpeckers with hanging shiny objects or metallic strips can also discourage them from investigating for insects.
Finally, woodpeckers may find your wood or stucco siding an attractive and easily excavated site for a nest or roost hole. If the woodpecker seems to be making a round hole big enough for it to enter, you will need to stop this by blocking access to the hole with bird netting, metal flashing, or some other barrier. But since the bird has decided this is a good place for a nest or roost, it may be hard to get it to leave, in which case it may be easier to install a woodpecker nest box on the side of your house so that it uses the box instead of making holes in your home. Remember to fill the nest box with wood shavings as they prefer to excavate their own homes.
This scenario is surprisingly common and is almost always perpetrated by male Northern Cardinals, American Robins, and Northern Mockingbirds. The concentration of hormones in male birds increases dramatically during breeding season which can cause a ferocious defense of their territory. Certain species seem more prone to being "fooled" by their reflection in windows, thinking it is a rival in their territory.
The solution is to eliminate the reflective properties of glass by covering the window from the outside. Anything attached to the inside of the window may reduce reflectivity, but not eliminate it. You may have to cover the window for a period of time, perhaps a week or more. Attaching white paper to the entire outer surface of the window will allow for light to enter while eliminating reflection. Try stringing balloons, old CDs, or strips of shiny material to the outer window surface. If the bird is still persistent, you may have to attach fine netting across your windows to at least stop them from banging into the glass.
Feeding and Attracting Birds
Seed-eating birds get their food from a variety of sources throughout a day, so what people provide is a convenient and easy source of food, but not necessary to help the species of birds that come to feeders. So, starting or stopping your feeding at any particular time of year won't have much of an impact on those birds. The only exception is if there is a bad snow or ice storm and natural food is buried for a period of time. In that event, the seed you put out could be life-saving for some birds. Some people choose to only feed in winter, but others feed year-round to attract them closer to enjoy them up close.
Nectar-eating birds, such as hummingbirds and orioles, begin their migration north from the tropics in January. Hummingbirds may arrive in southern states as early as January, the middle states in March or April, and upper Great Lake states in May. As hummingbirds head south again, the birds farther north will stop at feeders along their way south; so some people leave their feeders out for a few weeks after they notice their summer birds have left, in the event passers-by stop to refuel.
For people who only feed during the summer, they can stop feeding in the fall whenever they want. Migratory birds leave on their own schedule, regardless of food availability, so continued feeding will not prevent birds from migrating as they should.
For more information, visit our Bird Feeding and Care page.
Native plants are the best source of food and shelter for our native bird species; they provide nutrient-rich fruit and seeds, and are an important source of the native insects that birds need to feed their young and thrive. Visit Audubon's native plants database to search for plants native to your area and get connected to resources and retailers near you. Read about how to create your own bird-friendly habitat and the importance of native plants on the Plants for Birds pages.
I have a hummingbird in my area past migration time and I’d like to feed it as long as it stays around, what do I need to know?
The answer depends on where in the U.S. you are.
If you live in an area where the night-time temperatures dip below freezing regularly, and you choose to feed the hummingbird, you will need to make sure your nectar feeder does not freeze. You can either bring the feeder indoors overnight when it gets cold and put it back outside first thing in the morning (hummingbirds need to feed as early as possible, especially when it’s cold, to keep their energy up) or you can hang an incandescent light bulb near the feeder. These bulbs give off enough heat to keep the feeder warm.
If your night-time temperatures only dip slightly below freezing, and especially if it usually warms above freezing during the day, in fact your hummingbird nectar may not freeze. The sugar solution has a lower freezing point than straight water, and that may help. However, of course it’s better not to have your hummingbirds drinking very cold nectar, even if it does not freeze. This can actually cold-stun them if they do so. You can either bring the feeder indoors overnight when it gets cold and put it back outside first thing in the morning (hummingbirds need to feed as early as possible, especially when it’s cold, to keep their energy up) or you can hang an incandescent light bulb near the feeder. These bulbs give off enough heat to keep the feeder warm.
Some areas of the U.S. do see hummingbirds normally over the winter. Several species of hummingbirds regularly overwinter along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. , southern Arizona, and south Florida. Anna’s Hummingbird is resident from northwestern Baja California along the Pacific coast to British Columbia, Allen’s Hummingbird is resident in coastal Southern California, and Costa’s Hummingbird is resident in Baja California, southeast California to western Arizona. Please refer to your field guide or Audubon’s online bird guide to learn about the winter range of particular species of hummingbirds.
I used to have lots of hummingbirds at my feeder, but I don't see them now. Where have all the hummingbirds gone?
What time of year is it? Ruby-throated Hummingbirds occur in the state from about the second week of March through the second week of November. During spring migration, especially April and May, you can expect dozens of individuals at your feeder as they move north across the state. After spring migration, a smaller number remain to breed. When females begin breeding they turn to insects and spiders, not nectar, to provide the protein they need to produce and raise young. They also turn to their preferred natural nectar sources in the form of abundant wildflowers available in the summer. In July, they finish nesting and once again begin regularly visiting feeders. In August and September, fall migration brings an influx of birds from the north. The stream eventually thins out and ends by November.
Other factors can affect the number of hummingbirds you have. Be sure your feeder is clean and the water is fresh. Sugar water shouldn't sit for more than three days, and needs to be changed more often in the heat of summer. Don't use red food coloring. It is not healthy for birds; red plastic parts of the feeder are sufficient for attracting them. Plant tubular native flowers (all colors, not just red) and provide trees as nesting places to increase the likelihood of hosting hummers. In addition, cut down on pesticide use to increase the population of insects that hummingbirds and other birds eat. Consistency helps too; the more years you've been offering food (sugar water and flowers) the more likely you are to have hummers. Location plays a role; rural yards may have more hummingbirds than very urban yards, especially during the nesting season. Finally, bird populations naturally fluctuate and individuals change locations. You may not have any birds while someone across town has many; or you may have a hummingbird nesting in your yard one year but not the next year. Be patient and they will return.
Are products that use hot peppers or their extracts to discourage squirrels at bird feeders safe for birds and squirrels? Could they get it in their eyes?
There really haven't been any scientific studies on whether the hot pepper extract, capsaicin, is harmful to the animals' eyes. It does deter squirrels from eating seed. The nerve receptor in mammals that is triggered by capsaicin, however, is apparently not activated in birds; and, therefore, the mucous membranes in the gastro-intestinal system of birds ingesting capsaicin are not irritated. This might be the same for their eyes, but that is not clear from the scientific literature. Capsaicin is deadly to bees and other beneficial pollinators, so that is not something we promote spraying around our yards as an insecticide.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology operates Project FeederWatch, with whom we work closely on backyard community science bird projects such as the Great Backyard Bird Count. The advice they provide to people feeding birds is the following: "Use no additives in seed or nectar. Capsicum [the genus for hot peppers] irritates the eyes of humans and is likely to do so with birds as well. We do not recommend adding capsicum to bird seed."
The studies on humans ingesting organic food versus non-organic food are complicated, and take a long time due to the very small amounts of pesticide residue that would be ingested each year. Seed-eating birds don't live very long in the wild, so there may not be enough time for pesticide residues to harm them significantly. They probably benefit more from having a steady food supply at feeders, than they would be harmed by any residue. In fact, much bigger threats to yard birds are the following: diseases they could pick up from dirty feeders and bird baths; diseases they could pick up from coming into contact with other sick birds in close quarters (eating closely with other birds at feeders is an unnatural activity); neighborhood cats; and hawks looking for an easy meal at feeders.
Birds that we know are harmed from pesticides are the ones eating in fields that have been sprayed while they are eating, or soon thereafter. Here, they would ingest the chemicals directly before they have time to degrade. By the time seed reaches our birdfeeders, it has been many months of being sorted, processed and stored; and many of today's pesticides break down after a week or two exposed to air. There is a benefit to purchasing organically grown birdseed, but it is the same benefit to purchasing any human food grown organically—any time we can encourage a reduction in the use of pesticides by buying organically-grown food, we are keeping the pesticides out of fields, streams and the air which helps birds and us.
A number of very strong chemicals are used on food grown in South America that is then shipped into the U.S. for human consumption. Migrating birds that winter in South America are poisoned directly by the hundreds of thousands each year due to those pesticides.
For more information on efforts to eliminate the use of those pesticides, and ones used in this country, visit the American Bird Conservancy's site: http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/toxins/pesticides.html
First, you can appeal the ban and suggest modifications for a compromise. The National Audubon Society has found no reason for people not to feed birds, but some people can and do overfeed and can create a nuisance for their neighbors. The following are suggestions for some limits to feeding that might solve whatever problems resulted in the restrictions:
- Prohibit feeding on the ground in certain areas.
- If larger mammals attracted to feeders are considered a problem (such as raccoons), it might be appropriate to allow hanging feeders only or feeders on poles with "critter guards" to keep them from climbing up to the feeders.
- Tray feeders could be banned, or only allow feeding during daylight hours.
- If suet is an attractive nuisance, just ban that.
The key is to have a discussion with your association members to discover what exactly prompted the ban. Was there an actual problem in your neighborhood, or did someone read something that made them worried? Figure out how to solve the actual local problem without going overboard on the issue. Even if you have no restrictions for bird feeding in your neighborhood, we encourage everyone to plant native flowers, trees and shrubs for birds. Imitating nature in your yard will bring in lots of birds naturally, and even if you put out feeders, you'll attract more birds with a diversity of native plants.
You can find a lot of suggestions, ideas, and resources for creating an environmentally-friendly yard, home, schoolyard and neighborhood at Audubon's Bird-Friendly Communities page.
Typical commercial bird baths are usually no deeper than 2" in the middle, and often taper from shallow edges into the deeper middle. This depth seems to be ideal for the larger birds—grackles, cardinals, etc. The smaller birds, however, would prefer an inch deep or so. If you observe birds around streams, you will see that they mostly use very shallow, quiet, pebble- or rocky-bottom pools or very slow-moving shallow streams for bathing. You can make a bird bath more "natural" by placing pieces of slate in the bottom to vary depth, or larger rocks that stick up above the water, but have sloping sides giving birds different depths at which to stand. You can also tip a deeper dish so it is on a slight angle, giving you the gradation of depth.
While it would seem that winter bathing would put birds at risk, actually they can do it quite safely. This is because the feathers of a healthy bird shed most of the water, preventing it from leaking through to the insulating down and skin below. This is most obvious in ducks that paddle about in freezing water, but it also applies to land birds who can shed and shake water from their plumage. The water helps them clean their feathers of dirt that would otherwise interfere with the feather barbules that act like Velcro to lock out water from penetrating. In nature, wintering land birds typically bathe in shallow water along flowing streams. Of course no chemicals should be added to bird bath water to keep it from freezing.
Most songbirds only use a nest once, and are genetically programmed to build a new one before they lay eggs. Once young have fledged (or left the nest), you can remove a nest and clean the site. Some species of songbirds will nest two or three times from spring to early fall, so by cleaning the desired nesting sites or boxes you are enhancing the likelihood of nests around your property. Never remove an active nest that has eggs or young, as they are protected by federal law. The exception is nests of House Sparrows, European Starlings, and Rock Pigeons, which are not native to North America.
Squirrels are not only impressive jumpers, they are quite acrobatic and can climb over almost anything. There are feeders you can buy that close under a squirrel's weight. These sometimes work unless a squirrel figures out how to bypass the closure system. There are also feeders enclosed in a cage that allows smaller birds through that work very well.
The only sure way to keep squirrels off of a conventional feeder is to place it atop a pole, 20 feet or more from a branch or roof, and attach a metal "squirrel guard" (stovepipe-like tube or cone-shaped baffle) just below the feeder. Raccoons can't jump as well, but are great climbers and need a similar guard to keep them from climbing up the pole. A stove-pipe type of raccoon guard needs to be a little longer than one for squirrels. Many people also put out food for the mammals to reduce their interest in feeders.
Bringing birds together like we do at feeders and bird baths is unnatural, and increases the chances for them to spread disease, or for waste to accumulate and breed diseases. By spreading out feeders and providing several sources of water in different parts of the yard, you not only decrease the concentration of disease and wastes, but the reduced competition is less stressful on the birds. It is also critically important to clean feeders and bird baths regularly to not only remove old seed and bird waste, but to also disinfect them with a weak bleach solution.
A bird's feet sticking to a perch is an extremely rare event. Birds do not have sweat glands on their feet, so they do not have the problem that people would have putting a wet finger or tongue on a freezing cold metal object. The only way a bird's feet would stick is if they were standing on a perch during freezing rain, and the rain froze around their feet. In the remote chance that happens, pouring cool or lukewarm water on their feet is the best way to thaw the ice.
Peanut butter, by itself, is not harmful to birds. Some people dilute it with birdseed or cornmeal to reduce its stickiness, but that is not necessary. Uncooked rice is also not harmful. Uncooked grains are a staple for the diet of species of many birds, so throwing rice at weddings is not going to harm any birds.
Birds that build nests in tree cavities are called "cavity-nesters." These include bluebirds, chickadees, some owls, woodpeckers, kestrels, and many others. Each species has its own "ideal" specifications that it looks for when choosing a cavity for nesting; so when you provide that cavity in the form of a nest box, you are more likely to attract the desired species if the box meets the bird's preferred design. A classic book of 28 different nest box plans was developed by Carrol Henderson of the Minnesota DNR that is still available for purchase: www.dnr.state.mn.us/publications/books/index.html. Many state natural resource agencies have reprinted this book or have similar books or fact sheets. Check out this link for a chart of design specifications for the birds most likely to use a nest box.
Injured, Orphaned or Sick Birds
Caring for wildlife requires many hours of professional training and licensing. Often the animals need round-the-clock care. Please call your local animal control officer for assistance or use this list to find a local rehabilitator who can provide instructions for transportation and care.
Every spring and early summer, baby birds are hatching and the parents are busy feeding and protecting their valuable offspring. As chicks mature, they may venture from the nest as they prepare to fledge. This is their start to the difficult but instinctive task of learning how to fly. During this time many chicks may fall out of the nest or from the tree or shrub that the nest rest in. If you should happen to find a chick, leave it alone! This is sometimes a difficult thing for us to do, but it is the best thing for the baby bird. If a chick falls from the nest, the parents are aware and will continue to feed and protect the baby to the best of their ability. Chicks and parents communicate by calling to each other and parent birds will find their young easily.
If you find a young chick that might not be fledging and know where it came from, it is ok to place it back into the nest. Touching the bird will not harm it or make the parents not want to take care of it. If the nest is too high to reach, a good practice is to place the baby in a shoe box or hanging basket in the tree or shrub that holds the nest. The parents can hear the chick's calls from a relatively long distance . If you're not sure exactly where the nest is, putting the chick back in any nearby shrub will do.
Above all, do not try to care for the bird yourself. Nature is hard to except sometimes, but the fact is that a large amount of baby birds become food for other animals and these chicks play a vital role in the food chain. Snakes, other birds, raccoons, and opossums all prey on live and dead chicks. Let nature take its course by doing the right thing and leave them alone or place them back in a shrub or tree.
The first step is to determine the bird's age. While many people assume a feathered bird that cannot fly has 'fallen from the nest', this may not be true. Many kinds of birds such as American Robins continue to care for their young once they leave the nest and before they fly well. If a bird has feathers and is able to hop around on the ground, it is likely a fledgling and its parents are probably nearby. Spend some time (even up to an hour) watching for the bird's parents. It is ALWAYS best to leave offspring with their parents if it is at all possible. If you think it is a fledgling, leave the bird alone. However, if you are concerned about the bird's safety, evaluate the situation and decide what is best for the bird. Placing a bird up in a shrub or in a safer spot very nearby may be the best option. Touching a bird will not cause parents to abandon it. Please keep pets and children away from the bird while it tries out its flight skills!
If the bird is naked, has very few feathers, or has its eyes closed, it is likely a nestling. If possible, try to locate the nest by looking in nearby shrubs, trees, or potted plants. Returning the nestling to its nest is by far the best solution. Many people believe that once humans touch a bird, the parents will not take care of it. Most birds have a very poorly developed sense of smell, and they will not reject their young if you handle them. They have invested a great deal of time and energy in their offspring!
Sometimes nests are destroyed in bad weather or by predators. At times, putting nestlings back into a nest is impossible because it is too high. Again, the best scenario is to try and leave these nestlings under the care of their parents. One option is to create a make-shift nest with a plastic butter tub (with holes punched in the bottom to drain water) or a berry basket. If the nest is still intact, place the nest in the basket or tub and replace babies. If the nest is gone, line the new 'nest' with dry paper towels and put young inside. Use wire to place the nest as close to the old nest as possible in a tree or in a shrub and try to give it some cover to avoid sunlight and rain. Watch to see if parents relocate the young in the new nest you have created.
While it is better to let nature take its course, a last resort measure is to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to take care of a young or injured bird until it is ready for release. Bird rehabilitators are required to have a federal permit to take care of birds. Migratory birds are protected, and it is against the law to possess eggs, birds, nests, or feathers without a permit. Additionally, trying to hand raise a baby bird is an incredible task, and requires a great deal of time, effort, and specialized information. Please do NOT attempt to raise a baby bird yourself. Keep in mind that rehabilitators are volunteers and do not have any obligation to take on caring for a baby or injured bird.
Although your initial reaction might be to help the bird, you should exercise extreme caution. Wild birds are protected by state and federal law and it is against the law to possess them. If the animal is a bird of prey, its talons are capable of exerting enough pressure to puncture skin and muscle, even through cloth and thin leather. Great care must be exercised when handling raptors and usually this is best left to licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
All other bird species, even if they're not birds of prey, should be approached with the same degree of vigilance. Herons and egrets, for example, possess long pointed bills to snatch fish from water and when confronted by a predator they will strike toward the eyes of a perceived enemy. They use their long sharp bills as defensive weapons not because they are mean, nasty animals, but because they are scared and protecting themselves. This is why it is prudent, if you find an injured or sick bird, that you contact the closest wildlife rehabilitator center before you attempt to help the bird. Remember that permits are required in order to legally handle or keep wild birds.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers helpful tips for people who find sick birds at their feeder.
Birds are being discovered in various places of the United States to have beaks that are much too long. The keratin layer of the beak becomes overgrown, resulting in elongated and often crossed beaks. The deformity shows up in adult birds, and most often occurs in the upper beak but sometimes in the lower beak or both.
The cause of the deformity—called "avian keratin disorder" —hasn't been determined, but is thought to be the result of environmental pollutants in the birds' environment. The abnormality —sometimes accompanied by elongated claws, abnormal skin or variations in feather color—often impacting a bird's ability to feed and clean itself.
The Bird Banding Laboratory, located at the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, controls and issues all federal bands and banding permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Banding birds requires a federal permit. Metal leg bands are usually found on terrestrial birds, while plastic leg bands and collars are usually found on waterfowl and shorebirds. Researchers in Central and South America participate in an international banding program where countries are assigned specific colors for leg bands.
All federal metal bands, colored leg and neckbands for geese, and bands from foreign governments should be reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory by calling the telephone number on the band or reporting the band to the Birding Banding Laboratory's website. The person making the report usually gets a reply with information on the bird that was banded.
A bird with no head feathers could mean several different things. Most birds naturally lose their feathers (molt) and replace them with new feathers twice a year in summer/fall and winter/spring. Usually, this takes place in stages so no part of the bird is entirely without feathers at any given time; but cardinals, blue jays, and other species have been documented losing all their head feathers at once. The reason for this is unknown at present. Other reasons for temporary baldness can be lice, feather mites, or some other environmental or nutritional factor. The feathers should grow back in a few weeks.
You are observing a disease that was first documented in House Finches in the Mid-Atlantic States in 1994. It has since spread to most of North America. It is caused by a parasitic bacterium called Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. So far, the disease is most prominent in the eastern population of House Finches. However, a few reports of the disease have been confirmed in American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, and Pine Grosbeaks, all members of the family Fringillidae. Learn more from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website here.
If you seen an infected bird, you should:
- Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding.
- Clean your feeders on a regular basis with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) and be sure to remove any build-ups of dirt around the food openings. Allow your feeders to dry completely before re-hanging them.
- Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
- If you see one or two diseased birds, take your feeder down immediately and clean it with a 10% bleach solution.
If you find an injured bird, carefully put it in a cardboard box with a lid or a towel over the top, and place in a cool, safe place. Birds go into shock very easily when injured, and often die from the shock. If a bird has hit a window and is still alive, it may just need a little time to regain its senses, then may be able to fly away. Do not try to force feed or give water to the bird. If it is still alive after a few hours, you can try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator. Many belong to your state association for wildlife rehabilitators, and can be found with an on-line search.
If you have found an orphaned bird, the first step is to determine if it is really orphaned. When many young birds first fledge and leave the nest, they may still have a little down with short tail and wing feathers. Fledglings often also have weak flight muscles and may be fed for a few days by their parents outside of the nest. This is a very vulnerable time for young birds, as they are easy prey for roaming cats and other predators. It is important to keep fledglings safe and to allow the parents to continue feeding them.
If the bird has fallen out of the nest prematurely, or if a tree was cut down and a nest of young is found, a rehabber may be needed.
Threats to Birds
A development is planned for some nearby woods, and I know it’s going to harm the birds. What should I do?
Try to have a friendly, but informative, conversation with the developer about what birds and wildlife might be on the property. Do not trespass even for the sake of birds. It's important to contact the developer before construction begins. Before construction begins, you might be able to convince the developer to consider minimal and low impact development practices including clearing vegetation on a lot by lot basis, beginning with house and driveway footprint areas only. This process of clearing land is highly selective; it only removes vegetation that's required for construction; sort of a "first do no harm approach."
If plans are to extensively develop the land for marketing purposes, you can share statistics with the developer that show how it is more economical to develop in an environmentally friendly way than it is to clear land and later be forced to pay a landscaper to redesign and replant vegetation. Be sure to narrate the natural history of the land to the developer, while providing good ideas for land use practices that will help sustain the natural quality of the land and work with the developer's corporate goals. Also, don't underestimate your influence at the city and county levels. Attend city council and county commission meetings to make sure developments are being built in an environmentally sensitive manner. Most local Audubon chapters are involved in efforts to help protect natural resources in their area.
Sadly, up to a billion birds are estimate to crash into windows every year in North America. In the right light windows can turn into mirrors, reflecting the sky and vegetation making the window look like an open place to fly. Inside, hanging blinds or curtains that can be partly closed will let in light while breaking up the reflection, and moving any indoor plants away from problem windows can also help.
Outside, hanging shiny objects in front of the window, covering the window with netting, or anything else that helps make the window visible may have some effect. You can also buy decals at bird stores and online with a special coating that reflect ultraviolet light, which looks blue to birds but is clear to humans. In order to be effective these need to be spaced less than three inches apart across the entire window in order to prevent birds from trying to fly between them.
Sometimes birds hit windows as they flee from feeders when frightened. If you have feeders close to windows, make sure they are within 3 feet of the window to prevent birds from being able to build up enough speed to seriously injure themselves.
Birds that are defending nesting territory around your home, including bluebirds, cardinals and flycatchers, might also see their reflection on glass and misinterpret the image as another bird invading their territory. Seeing their image (which they perceive as another bird) prompts some birds to do battle against themselves, banging and flapping against the glass for minutes and even hours on end. The best solution to this is to reduce the reflectivity of the glass using some of the methods described above, or in extreme cases, to cover the window completely from the outside until a few weeks into the breeding season when hormone levels drop and birds are less aggressively defending their territories.
Any chemical that kills insects could potentially harm the birds that eat insects. The more natural and organic you can manage your property, the healthier it will be for you, for birds and other wildlife. You can find more information on creating a bird-friendly yard through Audubon's Plants for Birds program.
Free-roaming cats are a problem around the world for bird populations, and have been shown to decimate ground-nesting and backyard birds in many areas. Whether the cats are free-roaming pets or feral cats, you may have to obtain a live-trap to humanely capture them and bring them to a local shelter. Audubon believes the best way to protect birds from cats is to keep cats indoors.
Many counties or municipalities have ordinances that protect homeowners from pets that damage neighbor's yards. Check to see all the ordinances that currently exist relating to pets. Problem cats may, in fact, not be someone's pets, but instead might be true feral cats. A feral female cat that is not neutered can have many young that remain wild —so you can get a large population of wild, bird-eating cats in a very short time. Report feral cats to your local wildlife control agency.
If you do not have an ordinance now to keep cats indoors or with collars, you should talk to your local elected officials about the process to propose one for a local vote. Also check with your local wild bird store to see what they know about this issue.
Hayfields, meadows, or fallow fields are habitat for several species of grassland nesters, including the Eastern and Western Meadowlark, Dickcissel, Savannah Sparrow, Prairie Chicken, Short-eared Owl, to name but a few. Ideally, fields should not be mowed until late July or early August to avoid killing nestlings. If that is not possible, walking a field regularly and watching for nests can help determine when the young have fledged. This way, you may be able to get in a mid-summer cutting before the birds nest a second time. Your local USDA or County Conservation District office may be able to provide more details on the species most likely to be using your fields, and the nesting timetable in your region of the country. For more information on the management of grassland birds, check out these Audubon guidelines.
American Robins often stay in the vicinity of their breeding area for the winter, or may move about a several-state area in flocks. They are generally eating lots of berries, so often aren't hanging around backyards like they do the rest of the year. Like all birds, their feathers and fat reserves keep them warm for the winter, as long as they are finding food. During a snowstorm, they may "lay low" to conserve energy until the storm passes, then resume their travels in search of food. Although they don't need us to provide food during inclement weather, they seem to appreciate a heated birdbath as other water sources may be frozen or covered over temporarily.
Several species of hawks eat songbirds as their natural food. This is part of nature's predator-prey relationship that is in balance. Hawks are not overpopulated when we see them in our yards chasing smaller birds; they are simply doing what they are genetically programmed to do—similar to Blue Jays eating other bird's eggs or squirrels eating nuts. In fact, predators often capture the slow or sick of their prey species, helping to keep those prey populations stronger genetically. If a hawk hangs around for days at a time keeping other birds away, you may need to stop feeding for a few days to discourage the hawk and help it move elsewhere. If you do get a close-up look at a hawk, consider yourself lucky to observe the beauty of these fascinating birds.
As a person who enjoys birds, it's difficult to see smaller species being captured and killed, but that is nature's design. It's been happening since birds first appeared on the planet; but we're more exposed to it when we feed songbirds—when we attract them to our yards, predators naturally follow. Unlike other birds, hawks reproduce very slowly and we are only now seeing many raptor populations recover from the massive deaths that occurred in the early 1900s from hunting and the 1960s from DDT. In fact, human-caused problems such as loss of nesting habitat, highway vehicles and electrical wires continue to impact the population of certain raptor species in many areas.
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