Frequently Asked Bird Questions
Q: What are some possible ways to prevent
It's that sickening sound that can only mean another bird has flown into
one of your windows. Birds cannot see glass, especially if it is reflecting
the nearby habitat or sky. These reflections do not register as such to
a bird. This is why millions of birds die or are injured each year in collisions
with glass windows in homes and office buildings.
Here are 10 different suggestions for making your windows
less deadly for birds.
10. Move your feeders. Many
window-killed birds are familiar feeder birds that use our backyards every
day. There are two parts to this suggestion. Move the feeders farther away
from your windows or move them closer to your windows. The idea here is
that you'll disrupt the birds' usual flight path to and from the feeders.
Moving the feeders closer to the windows can sometimes help because birds
startled off the feeders by a hawk don't build up enough speed to hurt
themselves, and being closer to the window, the birds might be able to
see that it is not an effective escape route. Remember that moving the
feeders will do nothing to prevent nonfeeder birds, such as migrant thrushes
and warblers, from hitting the glass. So here are some more general suggestions.
9. Branches. Breaking up the
reflective ability of a large expanse of glass is key to making it less
deadly. A natural way to do this is to suspend tree branches in front of
the most-struck windows. Try to do this in a way that will give good coverage
to the pane of glass but will not eliminate your view entirely.
8. Plastic food wrap. Another
method for breaking up the reflection of glass is to stick large sheets
of food wrap across the middle of your windows. Saran wrap and its cousin
products can serve this purpose. If you have trouble getting the wrap to
stick, spray a light coating of vegetable oil or water on the window before
laying down the wrap. The wrap's surface does not reflect the surroundings
as the glass does.
7. Spray-on fake snow/vegetable oil. If you can stand it, a light coating of either of these two products
will "deaden" a window's reflective ability. Just don't overdo
the fake snow or you'll be dreaming of a white Christmas and not be able
to see anything out your window.
6. Commercial stickers. There
are a few products available commercially that are designed to reduce or
prevent window strikes. One of these is a static-adhering sticker that
looks like a spiderweb; others are various designs meant to scare birds
away with predator faces or with bright metallic reflective surfaces.
5. Mylar balloon/Mylar tubes.
If you are willing to shell out $6.99 for a balloon at your local grocery
store, make sure you get one of the long-lasting metallic-looking Mylar
balloons (often featuring innocuous messages such as "It's A Boy!"
or a well-known cartoon character). These shiny balloons will flap around
in the breeze and spook birds from coming too close to your windows. A
variation on the theme was published in Bird Watcher's Digest's November/December
1999 issue. The author suggested wrapping strips of bright Mylar around
cardboard tubes (from paper towel rolls) and suspending these wrapped tubes
from strings in front of your problem windows.
4. Hawk/owl/crow silhouettes. The
black vinyl flying accipiter silhouettes were the conventional solution
for window strikes in the 1970s and many are still in use today. I have
also seen owl and crow silhouettes used for the same purpose. The idea
is that these shapes of "dangerous" birds are scary enough to
prevent small birds from flying toward them, but their effectiveness is
debatable. In certain situations they seem to work, at least for a time.
The question is, do the birds get used to them and ignore them? If you
can't find these at your local bird store, trace the outline of a hawk,
crow, or owl from a picture, enlarge it on a copier, cut it out and trace
it onto black paper or vinyl, and stick them onto your windows.
3. Plastic strips/pie pans/ Christmas decorations/
CDs. Another method of scaring birds away from
windows is to use something unusual suspended in front of the glass. The
item can be shiny and reflective such as the aforementioned Mylar balloon,
an aluminum pie pan, tin foil, Christmas decorations, or old compact discs
(CDs). Or it can be something that flutters in the wind, such as strips
from a plastic garbage bag. The message to birds is "don't fly toward
this scary, moving stuff."
2. Screens or netting on the outside. The old standby solution to window strikes is to stretch some
mesh netting (also known as fruit netting or crop netting) across your
problem windows. This can take a bit of work, and it doesn't look great,
but the benefit is that it is 100 percent effective in preventing birds
from hitting your windows. Some bird watchers will tie short pieces of
white flagging, rags, or yarn to the netting to alert birds to its presence.
An alternative is to get some old window screens (old storm window screens
or screen doors work well) and suspend them in front of the windows birds
are hitting regularly.
1. Feather Guard. Perhaps
my favorite reader tip of all time was featured as a "My Way"
in the September/October 2001 issue of Bird Watcher's Digest. The idea
is called FeatherGuard. BWD reader Stiles Thomas of New Jersey created
FeatherGuard. His creation consists of bird feathers strung about 8 inches
apart on fishing line. These lines of feathers are then strung vertically
across regularly struck windows. Birds see the feathers and do not continue
to fly into the windows. Do the birds see the feathers as evidence of predation?
Do the moving feathers frighten the birds? Nobody knows for sure, but I
know from experience that FeatherGuard
(by Bill Thompson III, Bird Watcher's Digest)
Q: A woodpecker has been hammering on
the side of my house. What should I do?
A: The way it hammers and
what it is hammering on will tell you a lot.
If it is using your gutters or downspouts and it is a
very rapid-fire noise, the woodpecker is "drumming," which is
its way of communicating its presence to other woodpeckers. It would prefer
a dead limb or trunk which echoes, but if there aren't any nearby, it will
settle for anything else that is noisy and reverberates. It won't do any
damage other than wake you up very early in the morning, but to discourage
it, try the third suggestion below.
If it is hammering on your wood siding and it is a slower,
methodical pecking, it is may be looking for food, but it probably wants
to excavate a nesting cavity.
In that case, according to Dr. Jerome Jackson, PhD, Professor
of Ornithology at FGCU, with specialty in woodpeckers, there's
not a lot you can do. He recommends three possible solutions, all
of which have worked at one time or other, and all of which have failed
at one time or other:
First, build or buy an appropriate sized bird house. The
bird is probably a Red-bellied Woodpecker. If so, a two inch diameter
hole is needed. It needs to be rough wood. Fill it full of wood
shavings (hamster litter). The birds like to excavate a cavity and
this substitutes for it. Then hang the bird house over the most recent
spot they have been working. Often they will move in and nest there
since they have already selected that spot for a nest.
Second, buy a large sheet of clear plastic and hang it
centered over the excavation so they can't get a foothold and may go away.
However, they might go to the edge of the plastic and try again -- there's
Finally, go to a garden store and buy some bird netting,
the kind of stuff that is draped over fruit trees. Tack this under
the eaves of the house about 4-6 inches from the side of the house and
let it hang. This usually dissuades the birds, but you may need a
lot of netting. From the street it is rarely visible.
Q: Where do birds go during a hurricane?
A: Different places for different
Small birds seek shelter in low heavy vegetation as much
out of the wind as possible. At my house a bird feeder is right next to
a large dense Fishtail Palm; during bad weather (Charlie, as an example)
whenever there is a lull in the wind the House Sparrows come out of the
palm and feed.
For larger birds it is different; they get in the lee
of thick foliage (trying to get out of the wind). For instance at Rookery
Bay there is one small cove that has compact 30' Red Mangrove on three
sides and is open to the south; Brown Pelicans only use this cove in the
winter when the temperature is below 50° and the wind is above 15mph
(I haven't been out in hurricanes to see where they are; but usually they
are around after the storms so they must go somewhere). In hurricane Andrew
several flocks of White Ibis died when the mangrove they were hiding behind
was blown away.
Birds are not the fragile organisms some people think
they are and are able to cope with most of the usual bad weather that passes
through. As an example, this diving immature Brown Pelican was photographed
during a thunder squall; the wind was about 30mph and I was hiding behind
one of the islands of the Marco Colony watching 10-12 pelicans feeding
during the storm. During a lull in the rain I got some interesting shots.
Birds like people have different strategies for different
situations; it would be interesting to hear of other ways birds deal with
Q: What do I do about birds building
nests in an inappropriate places on my property?
A: The best advice is to stop
this process as soon as it starts. Remove the nest materials by hand or
with a hose, making sure not to injure any nearby wildlife. This action
is only appropriate in the beginning stages of nest building. If nesting has already begun, it is against the
law to injure or disturb wildlife, nests, or eggs!
Q: What other laws affect me and birds?
A: Native birds are protected
by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, with the exception of those which
are legal to hunt in season with a license (doves, ducks and geese, quail,
and turkey). It is otherwise illegal
to kill any native birds, including hawks, crows,
vultures, Blue Jays, and (regrettably) Brown-headed Cowbirds. It is also
illegal to disturb their nests and eggs.
It is LEGAL to kill non-native birds such as Rock Doves
(city pigeons), House Sparrows, and European Starlings. However, the means
of killing them is restricted by gun laws and animal cruelty laws.
Q: How do I keep birds from flying into
my windows, or pecking at shiny things on a car like chrome and side-view
A: Usually, the birds that
fly into windows are seeing a reflection of the place where they want to
be, like trees, flowers, shrubs, or sky. Impede this reflection by putting
things in the window sill or by hanging mylar strips just outside the window.
The birds will see the moving strips and will not be tempted to fly into
Male birds may peck (or attack) reflections in shiny objects
such as clean windows and mirrors. They are extremely territorial, especially
during nesting season, and birds in general are not incredibly smart. If
a male sees his reflection in a window, he will perceive it to be a rival
male and will promptly attack in an attempt to drive him away. That he
runs into glass, that the rival bird never leaves -- these facts have no
effect on him.
The only way to stop him is to make his reflection disappear
-- put a bag over the side-view mirror, park your car somewhere else out
of his territory, tape some paper or plastic wrap over the window or the
mirror when the car is parked (but remember to remove it before you drive
off). If the bird simply moves to another window, well, maybe he'll go
away when his hormones calm down in the fall.
Q: What do I do if a bird has fallen
out of its nest?
A: Most are best off when
you leave them alone. Over 75% of young wild birds "rescued"
do not need help.
Often times parents are nearby watching over the young.
Some birds leave the nest prior to their ability to fly and will spend
days on the ground while being trained by their parents. Very young birds
or eggs that have fallen from the nest may be returned by gently placing
them back in. Birds have a very poor sense of smell and will not abandon
an egg or baby handled by humans. Gently pick up the bird and place it
in a box or basket. Try locating the nest and place it back in as best
you can. If you cannot find the nest, leave the young bird in a box or
basket and place out of reach of predators (cats, dogs) and let the parents
continue to feed their young. A destroyed nest can be substituted using
a box, basket or hanging planter lined on the bottom with grasses, pine
straw or moss. The new nest should be observed for 4-6 hours to determine
that the parents have returned to the young.
If a bird is truly abandoned or injured it must be turned
over to a licensed rehabilitator for care. It is illegal to keep or care
for wildlife without a permit. Contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission in your region for a rehabilitator in your area or call Audubon
of Florida at (407) 539-5700 for referrals.
Q: What do I do if I find an injured
A: The best solution is to
make the animal as comfortable as possible and call your local wildlife
care center for direction and/or pick up (The Conservancy of Southwest
Q: What should I do...
A: ... if I find a sick bird and to whom do I report bird die-offs?
Q: What kind of seed is safe to feed
my backyard birds?
A: Commercial "Wild Bird
Seed" as sold in many stores contains much waste grain. The waste
material, which may include a large number of small rocks as well as junk
seed that birds don't like, makes up about 60% of the feed's bulk. So,
although it's cheap, it's not much of a deal when you think of what you
pay versus what birds actually eat.
Better to buy a bag of black-oil sunflower seed and a
bag of white proso millet from feed stores like Sutherland's (11875 CR
951, Golden Gate), Golden Gate Nursery (14765 CR 951), or stores with a
good variety of bird feed such as Lowe's. These two varieties of seed are
all you really need anyway, and you probably don't need the millet. Black-oil
sunflower (be sure to get the black-oil variety) is eaten by just
about everything American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays,
Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and House Finches among
others. Doves and smaller birds such as sparrows and buntings prefer the
millet. If you like doves, jays, and grackles, you will have great success
with a "throw-down mix" of millet and cracked corn distributed
around the shrubby edges of your yard.
The kind of feeder you choose will partially determine
the birds you get. If your platform feeder is raided by grackles or starlings,
try a tubular feeder, since its perches are usually too small for those
birds. On the other hand, platform feeders and seed spread on the ground
are more likely to bring in doves, sparrows, juncos, and buntings. The
greater the variety of presentations, the greater the variety of birds.
Place your feeders where you can enjoy them, but don't
place them too far away from cover. Birds don't like feeling exposed.
And most importantly, if you have a cat, KEEP IT INSIDE
AT ALL TIMES!
If there are feral cats in your neighborhood, call Collier
County Domestic Animal Services, 530-7387. FERAL CATS ARE THE SINGLE GREATEST DANGER TO WILDLIFE IN SOUTHWEST
FLORIDA! For more information about dangers caused
by cats that roam loose, visit the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission page
Q: What about using suet for my backyard
A: Suet, often used in colder
climates, tends to go bad in Florida's warmer winters and hot summers.
Here are two recipes that you might try that other backyard birders have
found to be successful substitutes for suet.
- Mix 1 cup lard (shortening can be used, but it doesn't
work as well), 2 cups yellow or plain white corn meal, 1 tbsp. sugar, and
1/2 cup peanut butter. Add more corn meal as needed until the mix can be
rolled into little balls. Fill a pine cone with it and hang the pine cone
near the feeder, using a length of string or fishing line. Or drill one-inch
holes in a fallen branch, pack the holes with the mix, and hang the branch.
This will often attract non-seed-eating birds like Yellow-throated Warblers.
If you have trouble with squirrels eating the mix, reduce the amount of
peanut butter until they stop.
- Mix 2 cups quick-cooking oats, 2 cups cornmeal, 1 cup
flour, and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl. Melt 1 cup lard and 1 cup crunchy
peanut butter (a microwave works nicely for this) and add to the dry ingredients.
Mix well. You can pour the mixture into a square pan about 2 inches deep
to make your own "suet" cakes, or just spread it directly onto
a tree limb. Extra mixture can be stored in the freezer.
Q: What else should I put in my backyard
to attract birds?
A: Water is an important feature
of your backyard feeding station, maybe the most important (if only because
it will attract such a wide variety of non-seed-eating birds). As with
feeders, your water source should be near cover, be it bird bath or mister
or sprinkler. Birds like moving water, so a mister or sprinkler dripping
into a bird bath is especially attractive.
A useful web site is Your Florida Backyard's BIRD FEEDING
Q: Is it safe to feed my hummingbirds
nectar with red dye, as sold in most stores?
A: Current thinking is that
the red dye may not be good for them. The red dye is not necessary to attract
hummingbird. The color on your feeder is enough to attract them.
Q: So what should I feed my hummingbirds?
A: You can mix your own nectar.
Make a sugar-water solution (add 4 cups water to 1 cup sugar, boil, and
cool). Avoid honey due to the potential of botulism, and also avoid artificial
sweeteners such as Nutasweet® due to the lack of nutritional value.
After you fill the feeder, pour equal amounts into resealable freezer bags
for future use. Use refined sugar rather than beet sugar.
Clean out the feeder thoroughly (scrub) every two to three
days. If the mixture begins to ferment, it can become toxic to the hummingbirds.
Also, don't place it in direct sun where it will heat up rapidly; a hot
mixture will repel hummingbirds.
If you don't attract hummingbirds, it's probably because
there are no natural nectar plants nearby. Plant your yard for hummingbirds,
and use the feeder as a supplementary source rather than a primary source.
Q: What should I do if I see a banded
A: Basic explanation of bands & how to report banded
Q: How can I identify what kinds of
birds are in my backyard?
A: The best way is to purchase
a bird identification book. Two good bird field guides are The Sibley
Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America and Peterson's A Field
Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies. Get a book that includes range
maps. Books with illustrations tend to be better for identifying birds
than books that use photographs.
Q: I'm in Southwest Florida and want
to do some birding. Where are some of the better places to go?
A: Collier County is a superb
birding area; it has barrier islands, sandy beaches, tidal pools and lagoons,
mangrove forests, fresh water lakes, swamps with cypress forests, and pine
and oak scrub forests. There are county and regional parks, state parks,
national wildlife refuges, national preserves, a national park, and National
Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. To find some of the best birding
spots, visit our LOCAL BIRDING SPOTS page.
Q: What if I'm going to another part
of the state?
A: The best bet is to talk
to other birders who have been there. Another good place to start is the
local Audubon chapter in that area. For a list of Florida chapters, with
links to those that have web sites (and many have local bird checklists
too), go to the Audubon of Florida's CHAPTER PAGE. For a general idea of places
to go, two good sites to check are the GREAT FLORIDA BIRDING TRAIL and WHERE
TO BIRD IN FLORIDA.
These pages contain links to both public agency sites and private
commercial sites. The Collier County Audubon Society does not endorse any
of the sites listed nor has the material on these sites been verified for