Northern Bobwhite. Carole Wiley/Audubon Photography Awards
Bird FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions About Birds

Frequently Asked Questions About Birds

Watching and Identifying Birds

  1. Where can I order bird guides and song recordings?
  2. I think I saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Who do I notify?
  3. I have a white bird at my feeder, is it an albino?
  4. Where can I find out about bird-watching trips?
  5. Where can I share my bird photos?
  6. Where are my hummingbirds this year? Why did my hummingbirds disappear after they arrived?
  7. Where can I learn more about Eastern Bluebirds or Purple Martins?
  8. 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?
  9. I found a live/dead bird with a band on it. Do I need to report it?

Birds Causing a Problem

  1. What is that bird that is singing at night? It's driving me crazy!
  2. What can I do about woodpeckers pecking my house?
  3. Discouraging Ducks from lounging on a swimming pool deck
  4. Discouraging Gulls from nesting on rooftops
  5. What can I do about sparrows or other birds nesting on my house?
  6. How do I get rid of pigeons?
  7. Help! Canada Geese are taking over my neighborhood!
  8. What can I do about problem crows in my yard?
  9. Birds are pooping all over my deck and patio. Is bird poop dangerous?
  10. Why is a mockingbird attacking people walking down the sidewalk? What can I do about it?
  11. Why is a woodpecker damaging my house and how do I stop it?
  12. I have a bird banging against my window. How do I make it stop?

Feeding and Attracting Birds

  1. When should I start and stop feeding birds?
  2. Where do I get information on what to plant for birds?
  3. 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?
  4. I used to have lots of hummingbirds at my feeder, but I don't see them now. Where have all the hummingbirds gone?
  5. 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?
  6. Is organically-grown birdseed healthier for birds?
  7. What can I do about my Homeowners Association ban on the feeding of birds?
  8. What is the ideal depth of a bird bath ?
  9. Don’t birds freeze in the winter when they take baths?
  10. When is it safe to remove nests around buildings?
  11. How do I keep squirrels and raccoons off my feeders?
  12. Can feeders or bird baths make birds sick?
  13. Will birds’ feet stick to metal perches in winter?
  14. Is peanut butter or uncooked rice harmful to birds?
  15. Where can I get plans to build a bird house? What are the correct dimensions for each species?

Injured, Orphaned or Sick Birds

  1. Do you take-in injured or orphaned wildlife?
  2. What do I do if I find a baby bird?
  3. I found a baby bird that must have fallen out of the nest. What should I do?
  4. I found an injured/sick bird. What should I do?
  5. What would cause a deformed beak?
  6. I found a dead bird with band. What do I do with the band or the information?
  7. I have a bird at my feeder without head feathers
  8. I have a Finch at my feeder with encrusted eyes. What should I do?
  9. What do I do with an injured or orphaned bird?

Threats to Birds

  1. A development is planned for some nearby woods, and I know it’s going to harm the birds. What should I do?
  2. How can I keep birds from flying into my windows?
  3. Will pesticides hurt my yard birds?
  4. Cats and Birds:
  5. When to safely mow a field to protect nests
  6. Can Robins survive a snowstorm?
  7. What do I do about hawks at my feeders?

 

Where can I order bird guides and song recordings?

One good on-line source is www.AudubonGuides.com where you can order guide books on birds and many other natural history topics, as well as field guide apps for "smart phones" and other digital devices. Here, you can also keep a life list, and upload bird sightings with photos. Audubon VideoGuides are available in DVD or VHS format and can be ordered online at www.mastervision.com/mv-bird.html.

Audubon nature stores can be found across the country at Audubon Centers. For a nationwide list, check out http://marketplace.audubon.org. Most bookstores carry an array of birding guides, as do local bird stores which also carry CDs and DVDs of bird songs and video identification.

I think I saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Who do I notify?

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.

If you think you have seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the southeastern U.S. swamps, you can check your identification and report the sighting at a special website:http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/identifying.

I have a white bird at my feeder, is it an albino?

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.

Where can I find out about bird-watching trips?

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. To find the Audubon chapter nearest to you, visit http://audubon.org/search-by-zip.

Many companies offer trips to some of the world's best birding spots. Many reputable ecotourism companies advertise in Audubon magazine-- visit www.AudubonMagazine.comand click on "Advertisers" for a list and direct links.

Where can I share my bird photos?

During the Great Backyard Bird Count in mid-February, you can post photos taken during the count week. Check out www.BirdCount.org for details. Images taken of birds seen on theChristmas Bird Count (from December 14 to January 5 each year) can be uploaded here: http://www.audubon.org/mediaset/cbc-photo-contest. You will need to have your CBC Count Code and State available for entry. You can also post bird sightings on a map and upload photos at www.AudubonGuides.com.

Where are my hummingbirds this year? Why did my hummingbirds disappear after they arrived?

We often receive a number of inquiries to the Hummingbirds at Home mailbox, from many different regions of 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, and you can read our answer in the following article:http://birds.audubon.org/where-did-all-hummingbirds-go-spring-and-summer

Where can I learn more about Eastern Bluebirds or Purple Martins?

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?

Look in a field guide such as the Sibley Field Guide to Birds so you can properly identify the species. If you are unable to identify the bird using a field guide, try finding it via Birds of Arkansas, or Cornell's Online Bird Guide. If your online search proves fruitless, experts at your local Audubon office will be happy to help you. If you are able to take a photo of the bird and send it to our staff, that always makes bird identification much easier.

If you know the species but want to know how common/rare it is in Arkansas, consult theofficial state checklist produced by Arkansas Audubon Society.

I found a live/dead bird with a band on it. Do I need to report it?

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 or by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

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 a field guide such as the Sibley Field Guide to Birds or a reliable web site such as Cornell's Online Bird Guide; which is an enormous online database of bird information.

If you find a banded pigeon, contact the American Racing Pigeon Union to connect a lost bird to its owner.

Birds Causing a Problem

What is that bird that is singing at night? It's driving me crazy!

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 (Quail) 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 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.

What can I do about woodpeckers pecking my house?

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.

Discouraging Ducks from lounging on a swimming pool deck

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."

Discouraging Gulls from nesting on rooftops

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 have 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.

What can I do about sparrows or other birds nesting on my house?

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, 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.

How do I get rid of pigeons?

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. More information on nuisance pigeon control is available from the USDA Wildlife Damage Management Library.

Help! Canada Geese are taking over my neighborhood!

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. Border collies are effective at chasing geese away, and goose-chasing dogs can be hired to patrol a park or golf course. For more information on how to address geese problems, visit the Penn State Extension orJack H. Berryman Institute goose information pages.

What can I do about problem crows in my yard?

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 or the Humane Society of the United States websites.

Birds are pooping all over my deck and patio. Is bird poop dangerous?

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 the guidelines on the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management website--which include using a mask or other breathing protection, protective clothing, and bleach or detergent. For more information on diseases spread by bird droppings, see various resource page at the Centers for Disease Control.

Why is a mockingbird attacking people walking down the sidewalk? What can I do about it?

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.

Why is a woodpecker damaging my house and how do I stop it?

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. Click here for a chart of design specifications for nesting and roosting boxes. Depending on the size of the woodpecker doing the damage, use the box dimensions for a Northern Flicker (robin-sized woodpecker) or a Pileated Woodpecker (crow-sized).

I have a bird banging against my window. How do I make it stop?

This scenario is surprisingly common and is almost always perpetrated by male Northern Cardinals, American Robins, and 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

When should I start and stop feeding 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 Basics page.

Where do I get information on what to plant for birds?

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 US you are.

If you