Birding Tips from Audubon North Carolina and from The Outdoor Bird Co.
Q: What is that bird singing by my window at night?
A: In the spring and early summer, a likely culprit is the male Northern Mockingbird, who will sing at night while his mate is incubating eggs. He usually stops once the eggs hatch. The reasons behind the nightly serenading aren’t fully understood, but it may be related to pair-bonding and territorial display. Bright street and house lights could also be part of the cause by fooling the bird into thinking it’s still daylight. Other night-singers include the Northern Bobwhite and Eastern Screech-Owl, but their calls are less persistent and more uniform than mockingbirds. Two other nocturnal singers are the Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow, both insect-eating members of the nightjar family that sing at night to proclaim their territory and maintain pair-bonds with a mate. And don’t be fooled by frogs, toads, and the multitude of insects that make noise once the sun goes down.
Q: Why is a woodpecker pecking my house and what can I do about it?
A: Male woodpeckers sometimes pound on chimneys, gutters, window shutters, and other hard surfaces on the outside of a home as a way to advertise their turf to other woodpeckers. This territorial behavior mostly occurs during courtship and nesting and often takes place in the morning, which can be inconvenient if you’re still sleeping. But if you notice physical damage to your home because of a woodpecker, it might rather be due to a woodpecker pursuing food. These insect eaters might be trying to extract carpenter bees, ants, or termites from your home. Territorial drumming from a woodpecker rarely results in damage to a home. How you react to a woodpecker at your house depends on which behavior the bird is displaying. If the bird is eating insects, the best remedy is to remove the food source and repair the damage. If the woodpecker’s pecking is territorial, you can try draping plastic, aluminum foil, or netting over the area. Hanging pie pans and balloons may also help scare away the bird. Non-moving objects such as scarecrows may work at first, but birds quickly acclimate to their presence and may return.
Q: When is it safe to remove nests around buildings?
A: Most songbirds use the same nest only once and will build a new one before they lay eggs. Once chicks have hatched and left the nest, you can safely remove the nest and clean the site without fear of harming the birds. Some birds will nest more than once throughout the spring and summer. By removing their nests (once the young have fledged), you are increasing the likelihood of more nests being built around your property. There’s a notable exception, though: the Brown-headed Nuthatch sometimes lays a second batch of eggs immediately after the first batch of babies leaves the nest. If you’ve got a Brown-headed Nuthatch nest, wait until fall to remove it. Removing an active nest that has eggs or young is illegal because the birds are protected by federal law. The few exceptions to this rule are a handful of species that aren’t native to the U.S.—House Sparrows, Starlings, and Pigeons.
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.
Q. What is the recipe for Hummingbird nectar?
A. The solution is one part granulated sugar to four parts water. This is heated until the water just boils and the sugar has melted. It should then be cooled before using it in a Hummingbird feeder. Never use honey or artificial sweeteners, nor do I recommend any red dyes. The nectar should be changed every three days to prevent mold and bacterial growth.
Q. How do I keep my tube type Hummingbird feeder from dripping?
A. A vacuum must be created with this type of feeder. Fill the feeder completely and insert the stopper. To avoid air entering the tube, invert it quickly. The feeder will also be less likely to drip if you hang it in the shade or partial sun as heat makes the nectar thinner, which drips more readily.
Q. How do I discourage Grackles and Blackbirds from coming to my feeders?
A. This is an almost impossible task. Using the right feeder and seed will discourage, but not eliminate them completely. Black oil and safflower seed are the least favorite seeds of these birds. Another idea is to stop feeding seed mixes that contain milo, millet and cracked corn. Try eliminating ground feeding and instead use feeders with small perches, cage feeders and new feeders that close off the ports when large birds land. Nothing is a 100% solution, but using some of the techniques listed can at least reduce your aggravation.
Q. How long do bluebirds nest?
A. Eastern bluebirds in our area have two to three broods during the nesting season. The female will lay one egg a day until there are three to six clear blue eggs in the nest. Incubation will then begin, lasting about two weeks. After the eggs hatch, both parents stay very busy feeding their rapidly growing babies. The nestlings fledge by being coaxed by their parents to leave the nest site about 17-18 days after hatching. The bluebird family may disappear for a couple of weeks as the parents hide their babies until they are mature enough to fly well and begin their feeding lessons. It’s a good idea to clean out your birdhouse after its empty.
Q. Why are we not seeing as many hummingbirds as we did last year?
A. The number of hummers you may see at your feeders usually doesn’t pick up until mid summer when the first round of babies are old enough to come and feed. Remember, the range of the ruby-throated hummingbird spans all the way up into Canada, so some of the early sightings of hummers may actually be those who are ‘passing through’ our area en route to their summer destination. You may see the largest number of hummers in your yard by July when the second and last brood is mature enough to join the throngs at your hummingbird feeders.
Q. Will baby birds be abandoned if humans touch them?
A. No, the parents’ natural instinct to care for their young will always overrule any sense of danger to their nestlings. In addition, birds have a poor sense of smell. If you find a nestling out of its nest, gently pick it up and place it back in their nest if you know where it is. If you cannot locate the nest, contact a bird rehabilitator for instructions. Feel free to call us for a list of places with this service.
Q. What can I do about birds hitting my window?
A. For feeders near your house, move them 3-foot or closer to the window or affix them to the glass or window frame to significantly reduce the likelihood and severity of window collisions. If a bird is attacking its reflection in windows, he (it’s always a male) is seeing a competitor in that image and is trying to scare him away. Solutions to this problem include covering up the spot, applying something to the glass such as a spray of detergent or baking soda, or applying a window decal such as the silhouetted hawks, leaves, or hummingbirds sold in birding stores. This behavior most often occurs during mating season.
Q. How can I help save the brown-headed nuthatch?
A. Brown-headed nuthatches are experiencing a serious decline in the Piedmont due to urbanization and deforestation. This native bird prefers old-growth pine trees for nesting and eats mainly pine seeds. Help boost the numbers of the brown-headed nuthatch by putting up birdhouses (nest boxes) with a small opening. You can modify a bluebird nest box by attaching a one-eighth-inch diameter metal entrance protector onto it. The Carolina Audubon Society hopes to have 10,000 new brown-headed nuthatch homes put up in our area by 2015. You can purchase a nest box and the right-sized protector at local birding stories. Consider putting up a birdhouse for this special little bird then register it on the Audubon Society website, nc.audubon.org, so it will be included in the count.
Q. What is the best feeder to attract the ‘Rubies’?
A. The Ruby-throated hummingbirds return to the area in early April and stay as late as mid-October. Feeders come in all shapes and sizes but need to have some red on them to draw the hummers, even if it’s only the feeding tip. Other considerations include the ease of cleaning the feeder and having a non-drip feeder. Hummingbirds can be very particular and you need to sure make the feeding ports, as well as the inside of your feeder, stays clean. You can purchase a feeder brush to help you do this. Ant moats can be hung above your feeder and filled with water to prevent ants from getting into the sugar water solution. Many saucer-style feeders come with a built-in ant moat, which serves the same purpose.
Q. What do hummingbirds eat?
A. Hummingbirds drink nectar for the caloric energy, but probably half of their diet consists of spiders, flies, aphids, and gnats. To attract more hummers to your yard, plant nectar-producing annuals, perennials and vines. They are also drawn to hummingbird feeders filled with a fresh sugar/water solution. The safest, purest nectar you can make is 1 part sugar (no substitutions) added to 4 parts water. Refill your feeder with fresh nectar every 2-3 days, more in hot weather. Do not add red food coloring to your mixture.
Q. What can I do to attract Robins to my yard?
A. While robins typically don’t eat at bird feeders, they do come to birdbaths for a quick drink or bath. To get the bath noticed and draw more visitors, add a water wiggler to your birdbath. This simple device moves the water, which attracts more birds. Robins forage on the ground to find food on their own, but you can tempt them to try out a snack of mealworms placed in a feeder on or near ground level.
Q. Should I put out suet for the birds in the summer?
A. Yes. Many birds frequent suet feeders throughout the summer and ‘no-melt’ suet cakes hold up well in the heat and humidity. Suet can be a welcome substitute for nuts and berries not available at this time of the year.
Q. Why is there so much activity at my feeder at this time of the year?
A. Feeding birds during the late spring and early summer months creates a lot of activity and many rewards. It is still breeding season and there are many young mouths to feed. You may witness ‘mate feeding’ where the male feeds his chosen female mate or you may get to see the parents bring their fledglings to the feeder as they learn how to feed themselves. Well-stocked feeders are an important source of nourishment for nesting birds and their expanding families. The use of protein-rich birdseed mixes, suet, mealworms, and peanuts will attract a colorful and fascinating crowd to your feeders.
Q. Is it too late to put up a bluebird house?
A. No. By this time of the year, bluebird couples have likely completed at least one nesting cycle. But they usually produce two, and often three, rounds of nesting. The offspring from the first bluebird nesting of the season might very well stick close to their parents and help them with their nesting responsibilities.
Q. How will I know when the hummers are ‘back’?
A. Humm. You may see hummingbirds in your yard when the first azaleas are in bloom as these early flowers provide an early nectar source when the hummers begin their seasonal return to our area. For a month or so after your first sighting, some of the hummers you saw may actually be en route to destinations as far north as Canada rather than staying in our area. Our hummers will grow in number with the warmth of the season, especially when they begin to produce their offspring. Many of them come back to same yard where they resided during the previous year and will expect to be greeted with a feeder filled with fresh nectar. If you are not ready for them, expect them to hover around last year’s feeding site to remind you that it’s that time again!
Q. I have birds sitting at my feeder for long periods of time. It is like they are not able see where they want to go. Is this possible?
A. Over the past few years, cases of conjunctivitis (pink eye) have been reported in wild birds. Goldfinches and House Finches with puffy, pink eyes have been spotted at feeders in many middle and southern states. A bacterial organism called Mycoplasma is the suspected culprit. This form of conjunctivitis can not be contracted by humans. You can help stop the spread of this disease and others carried by birds. Always make sure that your seed is fresh and the feeders clean. With advanced forms of this particular disease, birds may become weak or unable to see, so they stay where they feel safe and have a food source. People who spot birds behaving strangely should call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a report.
Q. What can be done with a baby bird that is found out of its nest?
A. Most people presume a baby bird is automatically orphaned if they do not see the parents nearby. If a baby bird has feathers and is not injured it should be left alone for a short period of time, usually a few hours. Most of the time, the parents will hear the baby’s calls and come to feed it. If the parents do not return or the baby is injured, it is best to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. You can find the number of the closest rehab center by calling most veterinarians.
Q. Why have we been unable to attract Purple Martins to our Martin house in the backyard?
A. The biggest reason people fail to attract martins is the placement of their house. They are usually placed incorrectly or the yard is not an appropriate martin habitat. The airspace near a martin house should be unobstructed in at least a couple of directions. There should be no trees within forty feet that are taller than the house itself; the farther from trees, the better. Martin housing should optimally be placed in the center of the most open space available and at least thirty to one hundred feet from human housing for best results. So, if you have mature trees in your backyard that are close to your house, it is probably best to pursue other types of wild birds.
Q. Do you have a suet recipe?
A. The following is a great homemade suet recipe:
1 Cup- Crunchy peanut butter
2 cups- Quick-cooking oats
2 Cups- Cornmeal
2 cups Lard
Melt the lard and peanut butter, and then stir in the remaining ingredients to blend. Pour the mix into an 8”x8” baking pan or a container that will make the suet about 1 ½ inches thick. Allow to cool and cut into cakes.
Q. What do Bluebirds eat?
A. Bluebirds’ favorite food is insects. During the cold months of winter, when insects are not readily available, they will feed on berries. They can only eat seed that does not have a shell because their bills are soft and, thus cannot crack the shell. At your feeder, they will come for meal worms, suet or bluebird nuggets, which is a commercial product made of suet, peanuts and raisins.
Q. How can I help birds successfully nest in my yard?
A. There are a few things you can do to assist your backyard birds in this busy time of the year.
– Provide water for bathing and drinking. Your birdbath may be the first place the parents take their fledgling offspring.
– Continue to feed high-protein foods such as mealworms, peanuts, suet and a seed with high oil content such as sunflower seed.
– Hold off trimming hedges and shrubs. Cardinals in particular like to build their nests hidden in shrubs and don’t want to be exposed.
– Provide nest boxes. Some of the cavity nesters continue their breeding season through mid summer, especially the bluebirds.
– Keep your cat inside, and ask your neighbors to do the same. Cats are the biggest threat to nesting birds in low-lying locations.
Q. Should I clean out my nest box after the babies fledge?
A. In favor of leaving the nesting material in the box, re-use of an old nest can save prospective parents time and energy. Also, birds might more readily return to the same nesting site if it had proved to be a successful choice. On the other hand, old nests might have been previously plundered by predators, which might revisit the site. In addition, parasites might get into the nesting material and infest the nestlings. You be the judge!
Q. What bird is filling up all my nest boxes with sticks?
A. It’s the house wren. Easily attracted to a birdhouse, the male arrives first in spring and begins to establish his territory. You’ll know he has arrived when you begin hearing him sing from his perches. You’ll notice the male begins putting sticks in numerous prospective nest sites, which might include nest boxes with existing nests. After pairing with a mate, the male takes the female to each of the nesting sites he has begun building. The female selects the one she likes and begins to fill the nest completely with more twigs. Then she makes a small depression at the back of the cavity, which she lines with pine needles and grass for egg laying. You may want to check your nest boxes when you hear the cheerful, but insistent singing of the male house wren to be certain that his over enthusiastic nest-building endeavors aren’t intruding on any of your birds’ current nesting efforts.