Birding Tips from Audubon North Carolina and from The Outdoor Bird Co.
Q. I found a bird that looks sick or injured. What should I do?
A. It’s understandable that most people’s initial reaction is to help the bird, but you should exercise extreme caution. State and federal law protect wild birds and it is illegal to possess them. If the animal is a bird of prey, its talons are capable of puncturing skin and muscle, even through clothing. Great care is required when handling raptors, which makes this task best left to those licensed in wildlife rehabilitation. All other bird species, even if they’re not birds of prey, should be approached with the same degree of vigilance. Herons and egrets, for example, possess long pointed bills to snatch fish from the water and when confronted by a predator they will strike toward the eyes of a perceived enemy. They use their long sharp bills as defensive weapons not because they are mean animals, but because they are scared and protecting themselves. This is why it is prudent if you find an injured or sick bird, that you contact the closest wildlife rehabilitation center before you attempt to help the bird. Remember that permits are required in order to legally handle or keep wild birds.
Q: I found a baby bird that must have fallen out of the nest. What should I do?
A. As a general rule, it’s important to avoid interfering with nests or chicks. It is quite common for chicks to venture from their nest before they are capable of flight. During this fledgling period, young birds scramble around low branches of shrubs and trees and may end up 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.
However, if a chick is in imminent danger, such as hopping around on the ground while being stalked by a nearby cat or dog, there are actions you can take. Try to shoo the animal away and “herd” the chick off to some nearby shrubbery where it may find protection. It is a myth that parent birds will abandon a chick if they smell your scent on it. However, if you do touch a chick, your scent rubs off on it, making the chick more easily detected by predators. You may be tempted to place a chick back in a nest, but this is not recommended. The bird may have left the nest on its own accord, or the parent birds may have ejected it because it is time for it to leave, or the chick may be sick and thus pose a threat to its siblings.
Q: What can I build to help birds on my property?
A. The easiest things to construct are feeders and houses. Species have specific requirements for things like the interior size of the nest box and, most importantly, the diameter of the entry hole. But another simple project that can benefit birds is to build brush piles for the winter months, especially in a corner of the yard or near your feeding station if you have one. These simple piles can protect birds from predators, give them a sense of safety to approach your feeders, and provide shelter from inclement weather. You could also add water features to your yard, as you can attract just as many species with water as you can with food or shelter. For a bigger project, try a Chimney Swift tower.
Q. Since nesting season is coming to an end, is it safe to mow my yard or field?
A. Ideally, fields should not be mowed until late July or early August. If you need to mow during nesting season, we recommend mowing in alternating rotations to leave adequate areas in higher grasses at any given time. If you’re able, walk around regularly and watch for where birds are flying to and from their nests – then plan your mowing around them. If you can plan for at least one six-week period between May 1 and August 1 where you have no mowing, you can help grassland nesting birds complete their nesting cycle. And one songbird, the American Goldfinch, is just starting to nest in August, so make sure to look out for them in your weedy borders.
Q. I was vacationing with my family and we saw some areas on the beach closed off for birds. What is that for?
A. Birds like Royal Terns and Piping Plovers lay tiny, barely-visible eggs in little “scrapes” in the sand. Since nesting season can start as early as March for North Carolina’s coastal birds, nesting areas are enclosed so beachgoers don’t accidentally step on a nest. Signage and string are needed because even though humans usually don’t intend to harm birds, even coming too close to a nesting area will cause the parent birds to flush (fly away), leaving eggs or chicks exposed to the elements and predators.
Q. I have always had no less than 10-16 hummingbirds visit my feeders. This year, I’ve only had 3. What happened?
A. We always get a lot of concern this time of year regarding hummingbirds. Males are completing their mating duties and starting to defend feeders from other males. Females have begun nesting, so they are sitting on their eggs most of the day. There could also be a downturn in hummingbirds in your area for the time being, but you should begin to see your hummingbirds again shortly.
Q. How can I prevent yellow jackets from taking over my hummingbird feeder?
A. In mid to late summer, yellow jackets may begin to dominate your hummingbird feeders. There’s a pretty easy way to deter them and leave the nectar solely for the hummers. Simply rub some cooking oil around the feeding port of your feeder. It gets a little sticky but keeps the yellow jackets away. Refresh the oil when it wears off. You may also use Avon’s Skin So Soft in the same manner.
Q. Why am I suddenly seeing more hummingbirds in my yard and feeders?
A. In July and August, the number of hummers is likely to increase as the first brood, then the second brood mature enough to be seen at our feeders. Another factor that may increase the numbers you may be seeing is the early migration of the hummers from as far north as Canada as they begin to pass through our area. The hummingbirds that nested in our area begin to go south by the end of summer through early October. The males leave first with the females lingering about three weeks longer before they begin their migration.
Q. Should I feed the birds suet during this time of the year?
A. Believe it or not, suet consumption may increase in summer. Excessive heat, dry or wet spells can limit the natural food supply for birds. Suet becomes a nutritious supplement for a limited food supply. Hang up one of the many flavors of ‘NO-Melt’ suet and watch the variety of birds it will attract. If squirrels are a problem, use a squirrel-proof Hot Pepper blend or put their favorite flavor in a squirrel-proof cage.
Q. In the winter I had six or seven Bluebirds. Now I only have two. What happened to the others?
A. Bluebirds are quite defensive about their habitat while nesting, but quite social at other times of the year. The dominant pair can be aggressive in driving away other birds of their own kind. Flocks of Bluebirds form mainly in the non-breeding season of winter and that is why you may have seen more at that time.
Q. Why is Black Oils Sunflower seed so expensive right now?
A. Black Oil is the “universal favorite” and was once very expensive. This is not true now, but do not expect the price to drop any time soon. The reason for the latest increases is because farmers can make more money from growing corn than sunflowers. Also, the sunflower has become popular with the snack food industry because they use sunflower oil in their products to sound healthier. So, the supply is lower and the demand is higher, which drives prices up.
Q. Is it safe to use bleach in a bird bath?
A. Bleach can kill algae in a bird bath, but it can leave behind a toxic residue even after rinsing. This residue can be harmful to birds and humans. A better choice would be any of the bio-enzymatic cleaners on the market that are not toxic to birds. Enzymes are natural bio-chemicals that consume waste in the water.
Q. How can I keep ants out of my hummingbird feeder?
A. Ants have a ‘sweet tooth’, which often leads them into the nectar solution in a hummingbird feeder. Saucer-style hummingbird feeders come with a built-in ant moat, which fills with water to keep out ants. For other styles of hummingbird feeders, hang a Trap-It ant cup over your feeder, keep it filled with water, and no ants will get into the nectar. The ant moats have another bonus – goldfinches love to stand on them and use them as a drinking fountain.
Q. How can I prevent yellow jackets and bees from chasing the hummers away from my feeders?
A. Towards the end of summer, nectar often becomes a favorite food source for yellow jackets and bees. To keep them out of your feeders, rub regular cooking oil over the feeding ports of the feeder. The hummers won’t mind the stickiness created by the oil. Repeat the application if it is washed off by rain. You may also rub Avon’s Skin So Soft over the feeding ports to get the same results.
Q. How can I keep mosquito larva out of my birdbath?
A. You can place a battery-operated ‘water wiggler’ in your bath, which will create a continuous ripple in the water. This keeps the water from being stagnant and prevents mosquitoes from laying eggs in the water. The addition of a plug-in dripper or a mister serves the same purpose. Moving water also attracts more birds to your birdbath, which they use to drink, bathe, and help control their body temperature.
Q. What is a hummingbird swing?
A. If you observe the behavior of hummingbirds around your feeder, you may notice that each one will likely choose a particular spot to perch in between feedings. Hummingbird swings can be hung in a location near a feeder. Chances are one of your hummers will claim the swing as its own, making it easy for you to observe its antics throughout the remainder of the season.
Q. Is it good to put out more than one hummingbird feeder?
A. Absolutely! Ruby-throated hummers are feisty, territorial creatures and often fend others off their favorite feeders. You can cut down on the rivalry by adding other feeders in your yard. The more the merrier.
Q. What can I do to keep mosquito larva from hatching in my birdbath?
A. Hot summers bring mosquitoes into our yards, and they love to lay their eggs in standing water in places such as our birdbaths. The easiest way to prevent the larvae from hatching is to create movement in the water. Water wigglers do exactly that. They are a battery-operated device that, when placed in the water in your birdbath, vibrates the water. The water wiggler also helps keep the water fresher by deterring algae build up. Final bonus—birds are attracted to moving water.
Q. Is it important to maintain a birdbath at this time of the year?
A. Yes! Nothing attracts more birds in the summer than a dependable water source such as a birdbath. Birds use water to drink, bathe and to help control their body temperature. On a hot summer day, birds like chickadees and titmice may bathe up to five times a day. To help encourage birds to use your birdbath, put it in a shady location. Rinse out the bath and scrub it with a brush to keep it clean. Birds love the sound and sign of moving water, which can be facilitated by placing a dripper, mister, or ‘water wiggler’ in your bath.
Q. What do you know about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird?
A. Here are a few facts about this fascinating bird:
– The Ruby-throated hummer is the predominate species east of the Mississippi River.
– Their wings beat 40-80 times per second.
– Their flight speed is 30 miles per hour at normal speed and 50 miles per hour at escape speed.
– It is believed that they have about 8-time binocular vision and can see your feeder from about three-quarters of a mile away.
– Their tongue is longer than the bill and is forked on the end. They actually lap the nectar out of flowers and feeders like a cat.
– The female does all the work with the nest and babies—building the nest, laying the eggs, feeding and caring for the young with no help from the male. All the male does is fertilize the eggs.
Q. What special bird species are in our area during the summer?
A. Not that all birds aren’t special, but there are quite a few species that are here only during the warm summer months. One of my favorites is the wood thrush, which might be detected by its beautiful flute-like song in the early morning or late afternoon. Its song is often used in the background for advertising commercials. The blue grosbeak is another favorite. In the shade, it may look non-descript, but when the light hits it right, its iridescent blue coloring is outstanding. Other summer visitors include the summer tanager, the gray catbird, the house wren, and the red-eyed vireo, to name just a few. Keep your eyes and ears open in summer.
Q. Should we feed birds in the summer?
A. Absolutely! Feeding birds throughout the summer gives you a front-row view of them chattering and chirping as the parents bring their fledglings to your feeders to learn how to feed themselves. There’s nothing like observing a baby bird having a “bad feather day” as they sit on your feeder and rail squawking with their mouth open waiting to be fed. In addition, the parents have additional nutritional needs that need to be met during the nesting season. They work hard to raise their families. A well-stocked feeder offers a source of easily obtainable food, which is important in summer when natural food becomes scarce, especially in extreme weather such as heat waves.
Q. How do I maintain my feeders in hot weather?
A. Heat and humidity can spoil seed and clog your feeders. To maintain acrylic feeders, clean the portals regularly. Periodically soak the cylinder tube and removable parts in a five percent bleach and hot water solution. Scrub clean with a cleaning brush, rinse well and dry thoroughly before refilling. Wood feeders should also be occasionally scrubbed with hot soapy water and a stiff brush. Again, dry thoroughly before refilling it with seed.
Q. How can I attract hummingbirds to my yard?
A. One of the greatest joys of summer is watching the ruby-throated hummingbird, the only breeding hummer in the eastern U.S. To make your environment hummer-friendly, plant their favorite flowers such as the trumpet vine (native wild flower), bee balm, petunia, fuchsia, salvia, and sage. Trumpet-shaped blooms in the red-orange family contain their favorite nectar. You can aid nature by putting out hummingbird feeders and keeping them filled with a fresh nectar solution. Purchase pre-made powder mixes or make your own solution by boiling a mix of one part sugar with four parts water. Let it cool then refrigerate it. Try to place your feeder in the shade to keep the nectar cool. Rinse your hummingbird feeder and clean it with a stiff brush every 2 to 3 days to keep it clean during hot spells.