March and April Birding Tips

Birding Tips from Audubon North Carolina and from The Outdoor Bird Co.

Q. How long does it take for bluebird eggs to hatch?

A. For starters, bluebirds build their nests out of pine straw, grass or thin weed stems and are often completed a few days before the first egg is laid. These are pretty easy to recognize. One egg is laid each day until a ‘clutch’ of three to six pale blue eggs is complete. The incubation period of approximately 14 days begins as soon as the last egg has been laid. Then 17 to 18 days after hatching, the bluebird parents begin encouraging their babies to come out of the nest to enter their adult world.

Q. Can I look inside my birdhouse during the nesting time?

A. We suggest that you monitor your nest box at least once a week from early spring through July. In order to minimally disturb the nesters, make a little noise as you approach the box or tap on its side before opening. This gives the adult bird time to leave the nest and the young time to huddle down. Open the box very slowly and carefully. Be prepared for startled birds as well as wasps, snakes, or squirrels. Check the box quickly then leave the area promptly. Do not open the box once the nestlings are 14 days old as this could cause the young to fledge (leave the nest) prematurely.

Q. A bird is attacking my car mirrors and windows. Why, and how can I stop it?

A. Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, and American Robins often attack mirrors and windows this time of year. The concentration of hormones in male birds increases dramatically during the 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 or mirror on 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 week or more. Simple solutions include screens, decals or tape, or shutters.

Q: A bird is nesting on my front porch. What should I do?

A. While native bird nests, eggs, and babies are protected by law and cannot be moved or destroyed, European Starlings and House Sparrows are not protected and you may legally remove them from your home or building. Native birds who frequently choose to build nests on porches and decks include House Finches, Eastern Phoebes, American Robins, Carolina Wrens, and Barn Swallows. These birds are protected and beneficial, so 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 after the birds are gone.

Q: A mockingbird is dive-bombing me every time I leave my house. What can I do?

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 for about a month until the young have left the nest. 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.

Q. Is it okay to give birds dryer lint during the 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.

Q. I thought Bluebirds were insect eaters. Why are they eating shelled sunflower seeds from my feeder?

A. I think everyone will agree this winter has been colder than normal. When we have bouts of back-to-back cold spells, the insect population is pretty much decimated. Bluebirds and other insect eaters are forced to eat other things. Suet, dried mealworms, and wheeled seed are options to provide for them.

Q. What kind of feeders do I need to attract most of the birds in this area?

A. You should start with a tube feeder with large holes or a hopper feeder for large seed like sunflower, nuts, or blends. This will draw a larger audience initially. The addition of a tube feeder with small holes or a mesh bag for thistle is an option, as well as a suet basket and hummingbird feeder. These types are more species-specific however.

Q. How can I keep birds from flying into my windows?

A. There are many kinds of window decals on the market from large blackbirds to spider webs that help keep birds from colliding with windows. Tempera paint applied in squiggle lines or lightweight netting can be used as well.

Q. Why do people place statues of Blue Herons near fish ponds?

A. Individual Blue Herons usually defend the area around their nest during the breeding season. At any time of the year, they may establish feeding territories. They defend these with their aggressive displays. If a Great Blue Heron is passing by a fish pond and another heron is standing guard, they will usually stay away.

Q. What is the best way to attract Hummingbirds?

A. The easiest way is to plant annuals, perennials, and shrubs that offer flowers with nectar. If they are red it is even better. After they visit your flowers, it is a good time to add a Hummingbird feeder filled with nectar made of sugar water. Usually, the feeder has red in its colors. Once hummers start coming to your area, they will return year after year.

Q. Is it true that Cowbirds put their eggs in other bird’s nests?

A. The Brown Headed Cowbird is the only parasitic species in North America. Cowbirds lay about forty eggs per year but only two or three ever mature. this is largely because by laying their eggs in other birds’ nest they give up control over the eggs. Female Cowbirds have been known to use the nests of over 150 bird species. Some birds respond by building a new nest when they see other eggs in the nest. Others may puncture or remove the foreign eggs from the existing nest. Still, others do not seem to notice and incubate the eggs as if they were their own.

Q. Where is the best place to erect a bluebird house?

A. Nest boxes for bluebirds have one basic requirement – they should face an open area. If you have a heavily wooded yard, place the house along your driveway, as it is likely the most open spot. Bluebirds like to be in view of the area in which they forage for bugs, worms and berries. While the female incubates the eggs, the male likes to sit nearby so that he can guard the nest site from other birds or predators. When the babies hatch, the male finds food and brings it to the nestlings. We suggest that you mount your bluebird house at a height that allows you to open up the door to periodically check on the nestlings, 4 to 6 feet above the ground.

Q. I’ve heard that you can train bluebirds and others to come and eat mealworms by whistling. Is this true?

A. Absolutely. We always say that first we ‘train them’ then they ‘train us’. If you whistle when you’re putting out mealworms for the bluebirds, they’ll quickly learn the association between the noise you’re making and one of their favorite foods being available. If you don’t possess whistling skills, ring one of the ‘chow time birdie bells’ instead. A ringing bell is just as effective as a whistle.

Q. Do birds actually ‘live’ in a birdhouse?

A. No, they never really live in a birdhouse or other natural cavity. That’s why we refer to them as nest boxes. Cavity-nesting birds such as wrens, chickadees, bluebirds, titmice, nuthatches and purple martins use nest boxes as sites to build their nests, lay their eggs, and watch over their babies from the time they hatch until a couple of week later when they are ready to ‘fledge’ and take their first flight out of the box. When it’s not nesting season, birdhouses may provide shelter from storms or cold weather for many birds.

Q. How did European starlings get to America?

A. European settlers released about one hundred of these birds in New York City’s Central Park sometime in 1891. This was because they wanted to introduce all the birds that are in William Shakespeare’s works to the United States. Today there are over 200 million starlings from coast-to-coast.

Q. I used to buy Scotts birdseed but I have trouble finding it now. Is it still available?

A. Scotts was accused of selling contaminated seed in the last few years. They pled guilty to distributing wild bird seed coated with pesticides, which is toxic to birds. They reached a multi-million dollar settlement. The pesticides were added to prevent insect infestations during storage. Of this settlement, $500,000 is to go to bird advocacy groups.

Q. Do I need to stop feeding birds in the spring and summer?

A. There is a tendency for people to take down their feeders in the spring at a time of year when birds do not totally depend on feeders for survival. However, the feeders in the warmer months offer a source of easily obtainable food when natural food becomes scarce. This also gives you an opportunity to entice different species of birds to your yard. Most important is that you can share the outdoors with your bird friends. Fill your feeders and enjoy the show.

Q. How will I know when the birds are finished using my nest box?

A. If you weren’t lucky enough to witness the babies ‘fledge’, also known as leaving their nesting place, you can carefully tap on the birdhouse then step back to see if you get any response from the inside. If no noise is made, you can open the door and clean out the used nesting material to get ready for a possible second or third round of nesting for the season. If you see eggs or newly-hatched babies when you open the door, gently close the door and leave them alone. Your human scent will not discourage the parents from caring for their young. Bluebirds often lay up to three rounds of eggs per season and chickadees usually go two rounds.

Q. What birds might I expect to use my birdhouse?

A. Each species of birds makes their selection based on the location of the box and the size of the entrance hole. Many birdhouses feature a 1-1/2 inch entrance hole, which is needed to accommodate our Eastern Bluebirds and the Carolina Wren. Other common backyard birds such as the Caroline Chickadee, the nuthatches, Tufted Titmouse and Downy Woodpecker are able to get into a 1-1/4 inch hole opening but are more than willing to nest in a nest box with a 1-1/2 inch hole. Regarding location, bluebirds will only nest in boxes which face open areas; whereas, most other cavity-nesting bird species require a location by an open woods, the edge of a yard, or in a lightly-wooded area.

Q. Should I be feeding the birds at this time of the year?

A. Absolutely! During nesting season, both bird parents require a bountiful supply of high-energy foods to meet their extra nutritional needs as well as to help feed their young. Feeder birds will frequent bird feeders filled with sunflower seed, nuts, and suet. Bluebirds will feed their nestlings mealworms (live or dried), ‘Bluebird Nuggets’, shell-less birdseed, peanut pieces and occasionally suet.

Q. How can I attract nesting birds?

A. Spring is the start of the breeding season for most North American birds. They pair up with mates, build nests, lay eggs, and raise their young. The best way to host nesting birds is twofold: provide nest boxes and maintain bird-friendly landscapes that include a combination of ground covers, shrubs and canopy trees. Bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and wrens are some of the most likely species to occupy a nest box. A properly placed nest box can mean the difference between nesting success and failure for cavity-nesting birds.

Q. Are the goldfinches back? I thought I saw some.

A. The truth is they never left. In early fall, the male goldfinch molts, which means that he loses his distinctive black cap and brilliant yellow feathers and replaces them with a drab olive color that he dons over the winter. A sure sign of the arrival of spring is when you notice the goldfinches, particularly the males, once again getting bright yellow coloring, which is part of their courtship and mating. Remember to clean out your thistle feeders and fill them with fresh nyjer seed for the goldfinches.

Q. What’s the number one predator of birds at this time of the year?

A. Cats take an incredible toll on songbirds and are by far their most dangerous predator. Low-nesting species and their young are especially vulnerable to cats. Do the birds a favor and keep this unnatural predator away from places where birds nest. Please keep your cat inside during nesting season and ask your neighbors to do the same.

Q. Should I stop feeding birds in the Spring and Summer Months?

A. If you stop feeding during the warm weather, you will miss most of the bird fun. Birds in the warmer months will be socializing, raising their young and bringing them to the feeders. When Fall arrives, you will be starting this process over again, many times with different species. Success in attracting multiple species this time of year depends greatly on a good mix of seed without fillers, like wheat, milo or other cereal grains. Most feeder birds in this area come to the feeder looking for safflower, black oil sunflower seed, or nuts.

Q. When do Bluebirds start to nest?

A. Bluebirds start the nesting process earlier than most other birds in this area. At the end of February or the first of March you will find Bluebirds choosing a mate and fluttering outside birdhouses looking for the perfect nesting location. They nest three times during the breeding season (February through August). Having a Bluebird house with a 1 ½- 1 ¾ inch hole is most important when buying or making a house. Bluebirds only nest in houses or cavities, never in trees. It is best to mount the house on a pole not on the nearest tree or fence. The house should face a wide open area with no obstructions to the birds’ view. Mounting on a pole with a baffle will offer protection from predators.

Q. Why are Woodpeckers pecking on my metal guttering?

A. This usually happens when a male woodpecker is establishing his territory and a mate is being attracted. In the Woodpecker World, the guy who drums the loudest gets the girl.

Q. Should feeders be removed so Hummingbirds know when to migrate?

A. Hummers’ migration patterns coincide with the peak of flowering plants that produce nectar. They are driven to migrate because of their internal clock. When the urge to migrate starts, almost nothing can stop a Hummingbird from migration. Ruby Throated Hummers are usually the only species in this area. They usually arrive around Easter and head south to a warmer climate toward the end of September.

Q. Do Owls build nests in trees?

A. The Barred Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, and Great Horned Owl will all nest in houses or cavities. The kind of house for each depends on the size of the owl. The Barred Owl needs a large house with a large opening that is attached to a tree. They need no nesting material. The small Eastern Screech Owl will look for an old Woodpecker cavity or a small bird house. Great Horned Owls take over the nests of Crows, Herons, and Hawks, or will use stumps or broken trees.

Q. What new birds can I attract with water?

A. You can attract birds that are not seed eaters. Birds that usually eat a diet of fruit or insects, such as mockingbirds, bluebirds, robins, and tanagers will always be looking for a source of clean water. During times of migration you may attract other birds as well.

Q. Why feed the birds in spring and summer?

A. When spring arrives most of the natural food sources have been exhausted and will not be available until mid-summer or later. Birds will stray from your yard if you stop feeding in the warmer months. In spring, you will get to see a variety of bird behavior. If birds leave your yard you may miss out on courtships. the feeder brings birds to your property and increases the change of nesting. Parents will bring their young to the feeders for the first time and, thus, perpetuate the cycle.

Q. How do I attract Orioles to my yard?

A. Orioles are attracted to fruit, nectar, and jelly. Lots of feeders are available to hold orange halves, or these that are similar to hummingbird nectar feeders but are orange in color. Orioles like blackberry or grape jelly in a small dish feeder. Bird Berry Jelly is now on the market. It is lower in sugar and higher in fruit content that that in the grocery and a healthier option for the birds.

Q. Why are most Hummingbird feeders red or pink?

A. The natural diet of a Hummingbird is of flower nectar. They are especially attracted to red and pink colored flowers. This is due to the fact that Hummingbirds and the flowers they pollinate have an important relationship.

Q. Do birds need suet in the spring and summer?

A. Birds do have a declining need for the body warmth that suet can provide, but they still need the calories to meet the demands of migration and the nesting season. They will also feed suet to their babies.

Q. Is it true that peanut butter is bad for the birds?

A. NO! Peanut butter is great for them. It is an excellent source of energy and is easily digested by Chickadees, Titmice, and Woodpeckers. Some people add cornmeal to make it easier to handle. You can spread it on a peanut butter feeders or just place it in a dish. It is easier to use in the cooler months because it melts so quickly in summer.

Q. I bought a bag of seed from a discount store and all my birds stopped coming. Does this have to do with the seed?

A. I’m not going to say that seed from a discount store is bad or should not be purchased. It could be that the seed is not very fresh. Most of these stores buy in bulk then store the seed in a warehouse for long periods of time. The most likely problem though is the mix of seed in the package. Many times they contain seed that birds in our area do not like. This is one of the most asked questions. Here is a list of seed and the birds that it will bring.

Black oil sunflower seed – A universal favorite

Striped sunflower seed – Cardinal, Grosbeak, Jays, Chickadee, Titmouse, Nuthatch

Nyger thistle – All Finches, Mourning Dove, White Throated Sparrow

Sunflower hearts – A universal favorite, unlike black oil, even soft beaked birds like Bluebirds can enjoy this seed.

Safflower – Cardinal, Grosbeak, Nuthatch, Titmouse, Chickadee

Unsalted nuts – Woodpeckers, Chickadee, Titmouse, Nuthatch, Jays, Finches, Crows, Kinglets, Junco

White millet – Bunting, Mourning Dove, Cardinal, Towhee, Junco

Peanut butter – Woodpeckers, Chickadee, Titmouse, Robin, Warblers, Kinglet, Wren

Suet – Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Warblers, Bluebird, Titmouse, Chickadee, Kinglet, Wren

Citrus – Woodpeckers, Warblers, Orioles

Currants, Grapes, Cherries – Robin, Bluebird, Wren

Mealworms – All birds except Finches

Beware of Canary seed, corn and milo that attracts game birds and peanut hearts that attracts Starlings.

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