Backyard Birding Tips

Birding Q&A from Audubon North Carolina

May and June

Q: I’ve noticed a bird building its nest with snakeskin. What else do birds use to build their nests?

A: Snakeskins are used during nest building to scare off predators. Great-crested Flycatchers, for instance, will often drape a snakeskin on the outside of their nest cavity as well as weave part of it into the nest itself. Other seemingly unusual things some species of birds use to make nests include lichen, mud, and spider webs. You will also see nests built with twigs or sticks, dead leaves, yarn or thread, moss, feathers and more – so don’t be too quick to clean your backyard on the weekend.

Q: Where do birds go when it rains?

A: Most birds are actually waterproof. They have an oil gland at the base of their tail and when combined with their feathers, it keeps them pretty watertight. The inner insulating layers of down feathers are kept dry and able to be fluffed up with air, holding in body heat. Most land birds will keep feeding if the rain is not too heavy or cold due to this protection. However, many songbirds will perch motionless and conserve energy when it’s raining rather than fly. They’ll sit out the storm under the cover of a tree or if they’re small enough, under a leaf.

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

A: The best way to stop non-native species such as House Sparrows and European Starlings from nesting in your gutters, vents or other openings is to block any possible nest holes using boards or other safe physical barriers. Of course, we hope you’ll welcome some birds into your home – like Chimney Swifts. Chimney Swifts are in steep decline, and the chimneys where they nest and roost are rapidly disappearing as old chimneys are capped or torn down. You can learn how to build your own Chimney Swift tower at nc.audubon.org/news/build-your-own-chimney-swift-tower.

March and April

Q. Is it okay to give birds dryer lint during nesting season? What else can I provide?

A. Dryer lint isn’t ideal, as it’s composed of torn fibers that can fall apart easily when wet. Instead, let your yard do the work for you. Leave feathers, pine needles, bark strips, dead twigs, and leaves on the ground. Give yourself a break from lawn mowing for a few weeks: dry grass that hasn’t been treated with pesticides is great for birds’ nests. You can leave any of these materials in piles on the ground, draped over vegetation, in clean wire-mesh suet cages or mesh bags hung on tree trunks, or even in crevices of trees.

Q. I found a baby bird, what do I do?

A. It is quite common for chicks to venture from their nest before they are capable of flight, or the parent birds may have ejected the baby bird because it is time to leave the nest. Young birds may be seen scrambling around low branches of shrubs and trees, or hopping on the ground calling for their parents to feed them. The parents still take care of the chick during this time, so be patient and observe the baby bird for a minute or two; you’ll probably see the parents swoop down to feed it. If a nearby animal is clearly watching a chick, you can try to shoo the animal away and herd the chick off to some nearby shrubbery where it may find protection. Placing a chick back in its nest is not recommended. If you’re out of options, you can locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator at www.ncwildlife.org/Injured-Wildlife.

Q. What are some bird-friendly plants I can add to my yard this planting season?

A. Native plants that occur naturally to your area are the best bet for birds, especially those that produce berries in the fall. There are literally hundreds of options to choose from when adding bird-friendly native plants. To start, contact your local plant nursery and ask about our “2018 Bird-Friendly Plants of the Year,” including creeping phlox, sweet azalea, wild quinine, and star tickseed. For more ideas, visit nc.audubon.org/birdfriendlynativeplantslists.

Audubon North Carolina protects our birds and the places they need. Learn more at nc.audubon.org.