Injured or Imperiled Birds
- I found an injured/sick bird. What should I do?
- What do I do if I find a baby bird?
- A bird crashed into my window, what do I do?
- A development or other construction is planned that I know will cause harm to birds. What should I do?
- I have a finch at my feeder with encrusted eyes. What should I do?
- There is a nest with eggs or young birds on my property—how do I protect them? Can I move the nest?
- What would cause a deformed beak?
General Bird Questions
- I think I’ve spotted a rare bird in my yard. How can I be sure? Should I contact somebody even if I’m not sure?
- I found a live/dead bird with a band on it. What do I do with the band or the information?
- I have a white bird at my feeder, is it an albino?
- I have a bird at my feeder without head feathers, why?
- 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?
Birding Questions and Resources
- Where are the best places to go birding in South Carolina?
- Do you have tips to offer a beginning birder?
- Do you have resources for mobility challenged birders?
- Do you have binocular or spotting scope recommendations?
- A bird is attacking my window or car. How do I make it stop?
- What can I do about woodpeckers pecking my house?
- How do I keep ducks from lounging on my swimming pool deck?
- How do I discourage 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?
- What do I do about hawks at my feeders?
- When is it safe to remove nests around buildings?
- What is that bird that is singing at night? It's driving me crazy!
Feeding and Attracting Birds
- Where can I learn more about feeding and attracting birds?
- When should I start and stop feeding birds?
- Where do I get information on what to plant for birds?
- 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?
- 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?
- Will pesticides hurt my yard birds?
Injured or Imperiled Birds
I found an injured/sick bird. What should I do?
If you find an injured or sick bird, please contact a local wildlife rehabilitator to help you determine the best way to manage the situation. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources maintains a Wildlife Rehabilitators Registry to help you find assistance with injured or orphaned wildlife. Animal Help Now also provides an array of resources to help with domestic and wild animal issues.
Wild birds are protected by state and federal law, and permits are required in order to legally handle or keep them. Handling birds can also be dangerous, so please exercise caution. If you find injured wildlife on a heavily trafficked roadway, do not put your life at risk. Call the appropriate wildlife rescue agency. Staying with the injured bird, by watching the bird from your vehicle in a safe location, is helpful to the bird and those that are trained to rescue.
If you find an injured bird of prey, their talons are capable of exerting enough pressure to puncture skin and muscle (even through cloth and thin leather). 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.
What do I do if I find a baby bird?
If a chick or fledging (a bird that has left the nest) bird falls from the nest, the parents are aware and will continue to feed and protect the young bird to the best of their ability. Young birds and their parents communicate by calling to each other. Parent birds will find their young easily, so it’s typically best to leave the chick alone and give plenty of space between you, the chick, and adult birds.
If you have an idea where the young bird came from, gently place the bird back into the nest. Touching a young bird will not harm or prevent the parents from caring for their young. If the nest is too high to reach, a good practice is to place the young bird 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. Make sure to give yourself considerable distance from the chick so the parents are not afraid to care for their young. If the bird is injured, visit South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Rehabilitators Registry to help you find a local rehab. Please note that removing or relocating a bird will actually do the bird more harm than good. Raising wild birds is illegal, unless you are a registered wildlife rehabilitator.
A bird crashed into my window, what do I do?
If a bird has hit a window and is still alive, the bird may just need a little time to regain senses, then may be able to fly away. Do not try to force feed or give water to the bird. If the bird is still alive after a few hours, you can try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator. Place the bird in a box to protect it from predators while it comes back to it's senses, check periodically to see if it has recovered, and then release it. If it hasn't recovered after a few hours, contact a rehabilitator to arrange transport.
Window collisions are one of the leading direct human causes of bird mortality. A 2014 study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Institution estimated that between 365 million to one billion birds are killed annually by building collisions in the U.S. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to reduce to reduce window collisions, such as adding patterns to reflective glass surfaces, installing external screens on windows, closing blinds or curtains, moving interior plants away from windows, and placing bird feeders directly on windows. You can find a comprehensive list of resources and information on the American Bird Conservancy website.
A development or other construction is planned that I know will cause harm to birds. What should I do?
Unfortunately, Audubon does not have enforcement powers when it comes to protecting birds from development. We suggest reporting any concerns to South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-922-5431. The agency also oversees Operation Game Thief, which engages members of the public in the protection of South Carolina’s wildlife, fish, coastal, and other resources. For additional information on this program, visit http://www.dnr.sc.gov/law/OGT.html or call 803-734-4002.
If SCDNR cannot help, it can be helpful to reach out to the developer before construction begins to have a friendly but informative discussion about the birds and wildlife on the property, while encouraging the use of minimal and low impact development practices, such as clearing vegetation on a selective, lot by lot basis, beginning with house and driveway footprint areas only. You may note that 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. You may also contact your local Audubon Chapter, as many are often involved in efforts to help protect natural resources in their area.
I have a finch at my feeder with encrusted eyes. What should I do?
You are observing a disease that was first observed in House Finches in the Mid-Atlantic States in 1994, that has since spread to most of North America. It is caused by a parasitic bacterium called Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis--a disease is most prominent in the eastern population of House Finches. A few reports of the disease have also been confirmed in American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, and Pine Grosbeaks—all members of the family Fringillidae.
To reduce the spread of infection, be sure to space your feeders widely to discourage crowding and rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed. You should also clean feeders on a regular basis with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) –being sure to remove any build-up of dirt around the food openings and allowing feeders to dry completely before re-hanging them. If you see a diseased bird, take your feeder down immediately and clean it with a 10% bleach solution. For more information, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers helpful tips for people who find sick birds at their feeders.
There is a nest with eggs or young birds on my property—how do I protect them? Can I move the nest?
To protect eggs or fledglings, be sure to keep cats indoors and dogs away from the area while birds are nesting.
It is illegal to move a nest with or destroy the eggs of a native bird species. If you relocate a nest, the parents will abandon it. The best way to discourage birds from nesting in a bad spot is to remove material before there are eggs in it. Otherwise, the best approach is to wait it out, it won’t be long. Depending on species it will only be an inconvenience for a few weeks to less than a month. Wrens are the most common offenders, and it will be two weeks or less before they fledge. If for some reason you must move the nest, you should contact South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources about permission to remove it.
What would cause a deformed beak?
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.
In the past, large clusters of beak deformities have been associated with environmental pollutants such as organochlorines in the Great Lakes region and selenium from agricultural runoff in California. More recently, crows, chickadees, nuthatches and magpies in Alaska have been afflicted along with numerous other species to a lesser degree. For more information, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers helpful tips for people who find sick birds at their feeders.
General Bird Questions
I think I’ve spotted a rare bird in my yard. How can I be sure? Should I contact somebody even if I’m not sure?
A field guide, such as the Sibley Field Guide to Birds, is the best place to start for species identification. You may also refer to Audubon Bird Guide app and Cornell's Online Bird Guide for bird identification. If your online search proves fruitless, please feel free to share a photo, video or audio recording of the bird with our staff through one of our social media platforms or via email.
I found a live/dead bird with a band on it. What do I do with the band or the information?
If you find a banded pigeon, contact the American Racing Pigeon Union to connect a lost bird to its owner. Otherwise, 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. Report banded birds on the Bird Banding Lab's website or by calling 1-800-327-BAND. The person making the report usually gets a reply with information on the bird that was banded.
You’ll want to make note of the species, and 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. 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.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. Take photos of the bird and the band, live or dead, to help verify species and the band number. Older bands can become difficult to read and having photos can help interpret the numbers.
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.
I have a bird at my feeder without head feathers, why?
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. 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.
Where are my hummingbirds this year? Why did my hummingbirds disappear after they arrived?
We often receive numerous inquiries 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, and the Purple Martin Conservation Association has an excellent website with a wealth of information about attracting and maintaining a martin colony.
Birding Questions and Resources
Where are the best places to go birding in South Carolina?
The Audubon Center and Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest in Harleyville and the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Aiken are two excellent places to see an array of South Carolina’s bird species. The Carolina Bird club also maintains a list of popular birding sites in the state, or search for birding hotspots near you on Ebird.
Do you have tips to offer a beginning birder?
Audubon’s national website offers a host of resources for the beginning birder—from how to start, what you need and how to identify birds and beyond.
Another useful tool is the Merlin ID app, available for free for OIS and Android phones. The app asks you questions about the bird you're seeing and gives you a short list of options based on your location.
Do you have resources for mobility challenged birders?
The Audubon Center and Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest in Harleyville is ADA-accessible, and offers the use of wheelchairs if needed. We also suggest checking out the Birdability Map, a crowdsourced resource that describes the accessibility features of birding locations all over the world.
Do you have binocular or spotting scope recommendations?
Do we ever! Audubon’s website includes extensive information on choosing and using binoculars and spotting scopes.
A bird is attacking my window or car. How do I make it stop?
This scenario is surprisingly common and is almost always perpetrated by male Northern Cardinals, American Robins, Bluebirds, 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 old CDs or strips of shiny material to the outer window surface. If the bird is persistent, you may have to attach fine netting across your windows to at least stop them from banging into the glass. For cars, you may place opaque plastic grocery bags over side mirrors and cover other reflective surfaces with tarps or sheets of opaque plastic, or discourage the behavior by moving your car outside of the bird’s territory. Otherwise, best course of action is to be patient and wait for the breeding season, usually from May to early August, to end.
A territorial bird can be very persistent. If you cover up a window, the bird may search for the perceived rival until it finds another reflective surface. Some people have reported robins attacking as many as 15 windows on both the first and second stories of homes. Despite its violent appearance, this behavior is very rarely fatal. However, birds can sustain injuries, especially to their beaks.
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 foam (such as a poodle noodle) over the area. Hanging pie pans may also scare away the bird. Non-moving objects such as scarecrows and silhouettes may work initially, but birds quickly acclimate to their presence.
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 hardware clothe, 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. For more information, see Woodpecker Damage Prevention and Control Methods | Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (icwdm.org).
How do I keep ducks from lounging on my 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."
How do I discourage 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. For more information, visit the gulls section of the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.
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, hardware clothe, 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.
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 here: Pigeon Damage Control and Prevention Methods | Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (icwdm.org).
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 Canada Goose Damage Prevention and Control Methods | Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (icwdm.org).
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.
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. When around the nest wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself and keep pets away from the nest. If the nest is near a public walkway, a sign can serve as a warning for pedestrians.
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.
What do I do about hawks at my feeders?
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.
When is it safe to remove nests around buildings?
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 (English) Sparrows, Starlings and Pigeons which are not native to North America.
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 that 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.
Feeding and Attracting Birds
Where can I learn more about feeding and attracting birds?
Native plants are the best source of food and shelter for our native bird species, as 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. Read about how to create your own bird-friendly habitat and the importance of native plants on the Plants for Birds pages, and Audubon's native plants database to search for plants native to your area and get connected to resources and retailers near you.
In addition, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with whom we work closely on community science projects such as the Great Backyard Bird Count, operates Project FeederWatch—an excellent resource for all your bird feeding questions.
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.
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.
Find out which of these native plants will do well in your space by visiting Clemson’s Carolina Yard Plants database to find the right native plant for the right location on your porch, balcony, or yard.
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?
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 it is not something we promote spraying as an insecticide. Project FeederWatch, a program by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, notes that while squirrels and other mammals may be deterred from consuming birdseed treated with capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers “hot” they are unaware of any research examining the effect of high doses of capsaicin on birds. Although capsaicin may not negatively affect wild birds, we discourage adding any products to bird foods that have not been thoroughly tested.
How do I keep squirrels and raccoons off my feeders?
Squirrels not only jump well, 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.
Can feeders or bird baths make birds sick?
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.
Will birds’ feet stick to metal perches in winter?
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.
Is peanut butter or uncooked rice harmful to birds?
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.
Where can I get plans to build a bird house? What are the correct dimensions for each species?
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. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nest Watch provides excellent resources on nest boxes and structures, including plans and best practices.
Will pesticides hurt my yard birds?
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 the Plants for Birds program.
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