Frequently Asked Questions - Birds

One good on-line source is www.AudubonGuides.com where you can order guide books on birds and many other natural history topics, as well as field guide apps for "smart phones" and other digital devices.  Here, you can also keep a life list, and upload bird sightings with photos.  Audubon VideoGuides are available in DVD or VHS format and can be ordered online at www.mastervision.com/mv-bird.html.

Audubon nature stores can be found across the country at Audubon Centers.  For a nationwide list, check out http://marketplace.audubon.org.   Most bookstores carry an array of birding guides, as do local bird stores which also carry CDs and DVDs of bird songs and video identification. 

Ivory-billed woodpeckers were originally found throughout the lower Mississippi River states in large, bottomland forests.  The last scientifically-confirmed sighting was in 1948, but since then sporadic sightings have led researchers to venture deep into remaining southern forests in the hope of documenting their existence.  Another, more common woodpecker, the Pileated woodpecker, is commonly mistaken for the Ivory-billed as it is a similar crow-size with a black and white body and wings, and the male and female Pileated both have the striking red crest, like the male Ivory-billed.  The Pileated Woodpecker can be found throughout the Eastern and extreme Northwestern U.S. and Canada in smaller woodlots that have large, old trees for nest sites.  Some even nest in tall wooden light poles on ball fields.

If you think you have seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the southeastern U.S. swamps, you can check your identification and report the sighting at a special website: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/identifying.

It's possible, but more likely it is a partial albino.  Many common backyard species display a genetic mutation that affects the color of their feathers, or at least those with the pigment melanin. Only some birds are true albinos, indicated by the presence of pure white feathers, white bills, and eyes that lack pigment (so they appear pink). Partial albinos will have some white feathers (such as wings, or head) or markings combined with normal coloration on other parts. A similar condition, Leucism, is one where a bird exhibits a lighter than usual coloration, but is not pure white.  This is due to a genetic mutation preventing melanin from being deposited normally on feathers.  Any of these aberrations in pigment can make it tricky to identify the bird, but careful examination of its size, body features, behavior, and other birds it may be with will reveal its true identity.

Your local Audubon chapter is the first place to look, as most offer local and regional field trips throughout the year.  Some even offer longer trips to other countries.  To find the Audubon chapter nearest to you, visit http://audubon.org/search-by-zip.

Many companies offer trips to some of the world's best birding spots.  Many reputable ecotourism companies advertise in Audubon magazine-- visit www.AudubonMagazine.com and click on "Advertisers" for a list and direct links. 

During the Great Backyard Bird Count in mid-February, you can post photos taken during the count week.  Check out www.BirdCount.org for details.  Images taken of birds seen on the Christmas Bird Count (from December 14 to January 5 each year) can be uploaded here: http://www.audubon.org/mediaset/cbc-photo-contest.  You will need to have your CBC Count Code and State available for entry. You can also post bird sightings on a map and upload photos at www.AudubonGuides.com.

We often receive a number of inquiries to the Hummingbirds at Home mailbox, from many different regions of the country, asking "where are my hummingbirds this year?" or "why did my hummingbirds disappear after they arrived?"  There are many factors affecting how and when birds arrive during migration, and you can read our answer in the following article: http://birds.audubon.org/where-did-all-hummingbirds-go-spring-and-summer 

A motion-activated sprinkler device works very well.  This and other nuisance wildlife contraptions and deterrents are available at garden stores, or on-line by searching on "nuisance wildlife products."

One deterrent that seems to work on flat roofs is to put up a series of parallel lines of wire cables or monofilament line (at least 50 lb test) across your roof -- 10 to 15 feet apart, about a foot above the roof.  A line of cinder blocks could serve as temporary attachments for the line on either side of the roof, or attaching a series of posts to the sides of your roof.  Gulls are very protective of nest sites (as you have found out), but if you can get them to move somewhere else they will most likely return to that new place in future years.  If you have tried deterrents to no avail, then you could apply to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (regional office) for a permit to remove nests and eggs.  This will also discourage re-nesting there, but you will not get a permit unless you have exhausted other deterrent methods.

Another thing you can try is a sound device designed to emit sonic or noises unpleasant to gulls. There are numerous companies that sell waterproof, pre-packaged systems that are ready to go.  An Internet search on "nuisance bird products" will pull up a variety of options.

House Sparrows and European Starlings are non-native species, introduced from Europe, that have adapted to nesting on homes and other buildings since the beginnings of the Agricultural Revolution more than 10,000 years ago.  They build their homes in gutters, vents, or other openings in buildings.  Sparrows can gain entrance to holes as small as 1 1/4 inch diameter, while the larger starlings need holes at least 1 5/8 inch diameter. 

The best way to stop these birds from nesting on your house is to block any and all possible nest holes with boards, bird netting, or any physical barrier that might be cosmetically and structurally appropriate.  Birds can nest in gutter downspouts if there is a horizontal section of pipe near the entrance at the top, so avoid this gutter design.  While native bird nests, eggs, and babies are protected by law and cannot be moved or destroyed, Starlings and House Sparrows are not protected and you may legally remove them from your home or building. 

For native birds such as House Finches (often nesting in hanging plants), Mourning Doves and American Robins (nesting on ledges), Carolina Wrens (nesting in buckets, shoes, or mailboxes), or Barn Swallows (nesting over doors or on porches) it is best to discourage them before they start nesting by eliminating or blocking access to potential sites.  If you want to encourage these birds to nest on your home, you can build ledges or provide nesting boxes to attract them.  Since these native birds are protected and beneficial, 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 with a strong disinfectant after the birds are gone. 

Pigeons are one of the most common birds in urban areas, where they are attracted to discarded human foods and find plenty of roosts and nesting sites on the flat rooftops and ledges of buildings, bridges, and overpasses.  Pigeon droppings are usually just a nuisance; but, if left to accumulate, could transmit diseases to humans or cause structural damage to buildings or bridges.

Physical barriers usually work to keep the pigeons from landing or nesting where they are unwanted.  Home or building owners can use netting, fishing line, or barriers to block access to a roost or nest site.  Also, creating a greater-than-45 degree inclined slope on ledges or other flat surfaces make it hard for pigeons to land.  Many safe and effective commercial products are also available including plastic or metal bird spikes.  Using sticky products is not recommended as these products can get on skin and feathers causing on-going problems for the bird.  If pigeons are roosting on a utility wire or other area where they can't be easily blocked, a weatherproof bird sound device that plays bird alarm or distress calls may chase them away.  More information on nuisance pigeon control is available from the USDA Wildlife Damage Management Library.

After seeing declines in Canada Goose populations through the early 1900s, state and federal wildlife agencies began raising them in captivity and released them across the United States in the 1960s.  These birds adopted a non-migratory lifestyle and enjoy the abundant food and protection from predators in our suburban golf courses, parks, and athletic fields.  They create a problem for the public with their droppings and may charge at people during the nesting season.

Nuisance geese that are feeding on grassy areas can be moved by spraying the grass with commercial goose repellent made from a non-toxic grape extract used as a natural food flavoring.  Geese that are found on a lawn, dock, or pond can be scared away by a sound device that plays goose alarm calls, or by visual deterrents like fake coyotes.  Wherever possible, eliminating lawns and planting cattails or other native vegetation along the edges of ponds is also effective at getting geese to move elsewhere.  Border collies are effective at chasing geese away, and goose-chasing dogs can be hired to patrol a park or golf course.  For more information on how to address geese problems, visit the Penn State Extension or Jack H. Berryman Institute goose information pages.

Crows are highly intelligent birds, and often hang out in family groups all year round.  In some areas, they may migrate regionally, and congregate in large winter roosts.  Crows can become a nuisance if they decide to roost in yards or on buildings, or if they descend on a food source like your garden or a bug-infested lawn.  As with all bird nuisance problems, the birds are only doing what comes natural to them for survival; and if they are causing a problem it is usually because we have created an opportunity for them.  If you can figure out what is attracting the birds, it may be possible to eliminate the attractant or make it impossible for them to take advantage of it.  It may turn out, however, that the birds are doing you a favor by drawing your attention to a lawn grub infestation or something else that you need to address. 

If frightening away crows is necessary, there are a variety of commercially available devices that emit predator or crow distress calls and other sounds that serve as alarms to crows and other birds.  This may work for weeks at a time, or may be needed every evening as they come in to roost.  For more information about crows and solving crow problems, visit the crow section of the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management or the Humane Society of the United States websites.

Bird poop (or guano) is usually more of a nuisance than an actual health risk, though there can be a risk of disease transmission, especially for those with weakened immune systems.  Clean up with soap and hot water whenever you have contact with bird droppings. In places where you are concerned about guano from nesting or roosting, you may be able to block access to those areas with fishing line, netting or a block of wood or Styrofoam material.  Discourage perching by installing visual deterrents like shiny pinwheels, mylar flash tape, or commercially-available bird balloons.  Plastic owls with "bobble" heads that move  with wind can work in many situations.  To clean up small messes caused by birds, use water from a hose; or for larger messes, follow the guidelines on the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management website--which include using a mask or other breathing protection, protective clothing, and bleach or detergent.  For more information on diseases spread by bird droppings, see various resource page at the Centers for Disease Control.

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 until the young have left the nest.

Eggs hatch in two weeks, and young leave the nest two more weeks after that. 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. This can also help discourage a loud mockingbird from singing outside your window during the night.

Woodpeckers peck at homes for three reasons. First, the fast machine-gun pecking, referred to as "drumming" is the male woodpecker's attempt to make as loud a noise as possible to attract a mate and to announce to other male woodpeckers that this is his territory. Hollow branches are usually used, but a gutter or loose siding sometimes serves as a substitute. Tightening up loose parts of the house may solve that problem. Hanging flashy objects nearby can also scare the woodpeckers away.

The second reason for pecking on homes is the birds' search for insects. If you are seeing holes drilled or chipped away, it may mean you have insects living in your external boards that the woodpecker found. Often, carpenter bees will drill holes into wood and tunnel through, laying eggs that you don't even know are there. Woodpeckers open up the tunnels from the outside and eat the hatched larvae. Attaching an untreated board onto the outside of your house for the bees will provide habitat for valuable pollinator species, and you can replace it as often as needed! Scaring woodpeckers with hanging shiny objects or metallic strips can also discourage them from investigating for insects.

Finally, woodpeckers may find your wood or stucco siding an attractive and easily excavated site for a nest or roost hole.  If the woodpecker seems to be making a round hole big enough for it to enter, you will need to stop this by blocking access to the hole with bird netting, metal flashing, or some other barrier.  But since the bird has decided this is a good place for a nest or roost, it may be hard to get it to leave, in which case it may be easier to install a woodpecker nest box on the side of your house so that it uses the box instead of making holes in your home.  Remember to fill the nest box with wood shavings as they prefer to excavate their own homes.  Click here for a chart of design specifications for nesting and roosting boxes.  Depending on the size of the woodpecker doing the damage, use the box dimensions for a Northern Flicker (robin-sized woodpecker) or a Pileated Woodpecker (crow-sized).

This scenario is surprisingly common and is almost always perpetrated by male Northern Cardinals, American Robins, and Mockingbirds. The concentration of hormones in male birds increases dramatically during 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 from 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 period of time, perhaps a week or more. Attaching white paper to the entire outer surface of the window will allow for light to enter while eliminating reflection. Try stringing balloons, old CDs, or strips of shiny material to the outer window surface. If the bird is still persistent, you may have to attach fine netting across your windows to at least stop them from banging into the glass.

The answer depends on where in the US you are.

If you live in an area where the night-time temperatures dip below freezing regularly, and you choose to feed the hummingbird, you will need to make sure your nectar feeder does not freeze.  You can either bring the feeder indoors overnight when it gets cold and put it back outside first thing in the morning (hummingbirds need  to feed as early as possible, especially when it’s cold, to keep their energy up) or you can hang an incandescent light bulb near the feeder.  These bulbs give off enough heat to keep the feeder warm.

If your night-time temperatures only dip slightly below freezing, and especially if it usually warms above freezing during the day, in fact your hummingbird nectar may not freeze.  The sugar solution has a lower freezing point than straight water, and that may help. However, of course it’s better not to have your hummingbirds drinking very cold nectar, even if it does not freeze.  This can actually cold-stun them if they do so.  You can either bring the feeder indoors overnight when it gets cold and put it back outside first thing in the morning (hummingbirds need  to feed as early as possible, especially when it’s cold, to keep their energy up) or you can hang  an incandescent light bulb near the feeder.  These bulbs give off enough heat to keep the feeder warm.

 

Some areas of the U.S. do see hummingbirds normally over the winter.  Several species of hummingbirds regularly overwinter along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. , southern Arizona, and south Florida.  Anna’s Hummingbird is resident from northwestern Baja California along the Pacific coast to British Columbia, Allen’s Hummingbird is resident in coastal Southern California, and Costa’s Hummingbird is resident in Baja California, southeast California to western Arizona.   Please refer to your field guide or Audubon’s online field guide to learn about the winter range of particular species of hummingbirds.

 

There really haven't been any scientific studies on whether the hot pepper extract, capsaicin, is harmful to the animals' eyes.  It does deter squirrels from eating seed.  The nerve receptor in mammals that is triggered by capsaicin, however, is apparently not activated in birds; and, therefore, the mucous membranes in the gastro-intestinal system of birds ingesting capsaicin are not irritated.  This might be the same for their eyes, but that is not clear from the scientific literature.  Capsaicin is deadly to bees and other beneficial pollinators, so that is not something we promote spraying around our yards as an insecticide.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology operates Project FeederWatch, with whom we work closely on backyard citizen science bird projects such as the Great Backyard Bird Count.  The advice they provide to people feeding birds is the following:  "Use no additives in seed or nectar.  Capsicum [the genus for hot peppers] irritates the eyes of humans and is likely to do so with birds as well.  We do not recommend adding capsicum to bird seed."

The studies on humans ingesting organic food versus non-organic food are complicated, and take a long time due to the very small amounts of pesticide residue that would be ingested each year.  Seed-eating birds don't live very long in the wild, so there may not be enough time for pesticide residues to harm them significantly.  They probably benefit more from having a steady food supply at feeders, than they would be harmed by any residue.  In fact, much bigger threats to yard birds are the following:  diseases they could pick up from dirty feeders and bird baths; diseases they could pick up from coming into contact with other sick birds in close quarters (eating closely with other birds at feeders is an unnatural activity); neighborhood cats; and hawks looking for an easy meal at feeders.

Birds that we know are harmed from pesticides are the ones eating in fields that have been sprayed while they are eating, or soon thereafter.  Here, they would ingest the chemicals directly before they have time to degrade.  By the time seed reaches our birdfeeders, it has been many months of being sorted, processed and stored; and many of today's pesticides break down after a week or two exposed to air. There is a benefit to purchasing organically grown birdseed, but it is the same benefit to purchasing any human food grown organically -- any time we can encourage a reduction in the use of pesticides by buying organically-grown food, we are keeping the pesticides out of fields, streams and the air which helps birds and us.

A number of very strong chemicals are used on food grown in South America that is then shipped into the U.S. for human consumption.  Migrating birds that winter in South America are poisoned directly by the hundreds of thousands each year due to those pesticides. 

For more information on efforts to eliminate the use of those pesticides, and ones used in this country, visit the American Bird Conservancy's site:  http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/toxins/pesticides.html

First, you can appeal the ban and suggest modifications for a compromise. The National Audubon Society has found no reason for people not to feed birds, but some people can and do overfeed and can create a nuisance for their neighbors.  The following are suggestions for some limits to feeding that might solve whatever problems resulted in the restrictions:

  • Prohibit feeding on the ground in certain areas.
  • If larger mammals attracted to feeders are considered a problem (such as raccoons), it might be appropriate to allow hanging feeders only or feeders on poles with "critter guards" to keep them from climbing up to the feeders.
  • Tray feeders could be banned, or only allow feeding during daylight hours.
  • If suet is an attractive nuisance, just ban that.

The key is to have a discussion with your association members to discover what exactly prompted the ban.  Was there an actual problem in your neighborhood, or did someone read something that made them worried?  Figure out how to solve the actual local problem without going overboard on the issue.  Even if you have no restrictions for bird feeding in your neighborhood, we encourage everyone to plant native flowers, trees and shrubs for birds.  Imitating nature in your yard will bring in lots of birds naturally, and even if you put out feeders, you'll attract more birds with a diversity of native plants.

You can find a lot of suggestions, ideas, and resources for creating an environmentally-friendly yard, home, schoolyard and neighborhood at our Audubon At Home website:  http://athome.audubon.org/

Typical commercial bird baths are usually no deeper than 2" in the middle, and often taper from shallow edges into the deeper middle. This depth seems to be ideal for the larger birds -- grackle, cardinal, etc. The smaller birds, however, would prefer an inch deep or so. If you observe birds around streams, you will see that they mostly use very shallow, quiet, pebble- or rocky-bottom pools or very slow-moving shallow streams for bathing. You can make a bird bath more "natural" by placing pieces of slate in the bottom to vary depth, or larger rocks that stick up above the water, but have sloping sides giving birds different depths at which to stand. You can also tip a deeper dish so it is on a slight angle, giving you the gradation of depth.

While it would seem that winter bathing would put birds at risk, actually they can do it quite safely.  This is because the feathers of a healthy bird shed most of the water, preventing it from leaking through to the insulating down and skin below.   This is most obvious in ducks which paddle about in freezing water, but it also applies to land birds who can shed and shake water from their plumage.  The water helps them clean their feathers of dirt that would otherwise interfere with the feather barbules that act like Velcro to lock out water from penetrating.  In nature, wintering land birds typically bathe in shallow water along flowing streams. Of course no chemicals should be added to bird bath water to keep it from freezing.

Most songbirds only use a nest once, and are genetically programmed to build a new one before they lay eggs. Once young have fledged (or left the nest), you can remove a nest and clean the site. Some species of songbirds will nest two or three times from spring to early fall, so by cleaning the desired nesting sites or boxes you are enhancing the likelihood of nests around your property. Never remove an active nest that has eggs or young, as they are protected by federal law. The exception is nests of House (English) Sparrows, Starlings and Pigeons which are not native to North America.

Squirrels not only jump well, they are quite acrobatic and can climb over almost anything. There are feeders you can buy that close under a squirrel's weight. These sometimes work unless a squirrel figures out how to bypass the closure system. There are also feeders enclosed in a cage that allows smaller birds through that work very well.

The only sure way to keep squirrels off of a conventional feeder is to place it atop a pole, 20 feet or more from a branch or roof, and attach a metal "squirrel guard" (stovepipe-like tube or cone-shaped baffle) just below the feeder.  Raccoons can't jump as well, but are great climbers and need a similar guard to keep them from climbing up the pole. A stove-pipe type of raccoon guard needs to be a little longer than one for squirrels. Many people also put out food for the mammals to reduce their interest in feeders.

Bringing birds together like we do at feeders and bird baths is unnatural, and increases the chances for them to spread disease, or for waste to accumulate and breed diseases. By spreading out feeders and providing several sources of water in different parts of the yard, you not only decrease the concentration of disease and wastes, but the reduced competition is less stressful on the birds.  It is also critically important to clean feeders and bird baths regularly to not only remove old seed and bird waste, but to also disinfect them with a weak bleach solution.

A bird's feet sticking to a perch is an extremely rare event. Birds do not have sweat glands on their feet, so they do not have the problem that people would have putting a wet finger or tongue on a freezing cold metal object. The only way a bird's feet would stick is if they were standing on a perch during freezing rain, and the rain froze around their feet. In the remote chance that happens, pouring cool or lukewarm water on their feet is the best way to thaw the ice.

Peanut butter, by itself, is not harmful to birds.  Some people dilute it with birdseed or cornmeal to reduce its stickiness, but that is not necessary.  Uncooked rice is also not harmful.  Uncooked grains are a staple for the diet of species of many birds, so throwing rice at weddings is not going to harm any birds. 

Birds that build nests in tree cavities are called "cavity-nesters."  These include bluebirds, chickadees, some owls, woodpeckers, kestrels, and many others.  Each species has its own "ideal" specifications that it looks for when choosing a cavity for nesting; so when you provide that cavity in the form of a nest box, you are more likely to attract the desired species if the box meets the bird's preferred design.  A classic book of 28 different nest box plans was developed by Carrol Henderson of the Minnesota DNR that is still available for purchase:  www.dnr.state.mn.us/publications/books/index.html.  Many state natural resource agencies have reprinted this book or have similar books or fact sheets.  Check out this link for a chart of design specifications for the birds most likely to use a nest box.

Audubon At Home is an Audubon program with information on making your home more wildlife-friendly and actions you can take for a more environmentally-friendly community.  Also provided are lists of regional resources for native plants, along with action ideas for protecting and conserving water, reducing pesticides, and removing exotic plants:  http://athome.audubon.org.  The North American Native Plant Society also has a web site listing local native plant nurseries around North America that includes contacts for state native plant societies:  www.nanps.org

Seed-eating birds get their food from a variety of sources throughout a day, so what people provide is a convenient and easy source of food, but not necessary to help the species of birds that come to feeders.  So, starting or stopping your feeding at any particular time of year won't have much of an impact on those birds.  The only exception is if there is a bad snow or ice storm and natural food is buried for a period of time.  In that event, the seed you put out could be life-saving for some birds.  Some people choose to only feed in winter, but others feed year-round to attract them closer to enjoy them up close.

Nectar-eating birds, such as hummingbirds and orioles, begin their migration north from the tropics in January.  Hummingbirds may arrive in southern states as early as January, the middle states in March or April, and upper Great Lake states in May.  As hummingbirds head south again, the birds farther north will stop at feeders along their way south; so some people leave their feeders out for a few weeks after they notice their summer birds have left, in the event passers-by stop to refuel.

For people who only feed during the summer, they can stop feeding in the fall whenever they want.  Migratory birds leave on their own schedule, regardless of food availability, so continued feeding will not prevent birds from migrating as they should.

For more information, visit our Bird Feeding Basics page.

Birds are being discovered in various places of the United States to have beaks that are much too long.   The keratin layer of the beak becomes overgrown, resulting in elongated and often crossed beaks. The deformity shows up in adult birds, and most often occurs in the upper beak but sometimes in the lower beak or both.

The cause of the deformity -- called "avian keratin disorder" -- hasn't been determined, but is thought to be the result of environmental pollutants in the birds' environment.  The abnormality -- sometimes accompanied by elongated claws, abnormal skin or variations in feather color -- often impacting a bird's ability to feed and clean itself.

In the past, large clusters of beak deformities have been associated with environmental pollutants such as organochlorines in the Great Lakes region and selenium from agricultural runoff in California.  More recently, crows, chickadees, nuthatches and magpies in Alaska have been afflicted along with numerous other species to a lesser degree.

The Bird Banding Laboratory, located at the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, controls and issues all federal bands and banding permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Banding birds requires a federal permit. Metal leg bands are usually found on terrestrial birds, while plastic leg bands and collars are usually found on waterfowl and shorebirds. Researchers in Central and South America participate in an international banding program where countries are assigned specific colors for leg bands.

All federal metal bands, colored leg and neckbands for geese, and bands from foreign governments should be reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory by calling the telephone number on the band or logging onto http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/ and following the links on how to identify and report a bird band. The person making the report usually gets a reply with information on the bird that was banded.

A bird with no head feathers could mean several different things. Most birds naturally lose their feathers (molt) and replace them with new feathers twice a year in summer/fall and winter/spring. Usually, this takes place in stages so no part of the bird is entirely without feathers at any given time; but cardinals, blue jays, and other species have been documented losing all their head feathers at once. The reason for this is unknown at present. Other reasons for temporary baldness can be lice, feather mites, or some other environmental or nutritional factor. The feathers should grow back in a few weeks.

You are observing a disease that was first observed in House Finches in the Mid-Atlantic States in 1994, that has since spread to most of North America. It is caused by a parasitic bacterium called Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. So far, the disease is most prominent in the eastern population of House Finches. However, a few reports of the disease have been confirmed in American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, and Pine Grosbeaks, all members of the family Fringillidae. There is a lot of information on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website -- the FAQ page is particularly informative: www.birds.cornell.edu/hofi/abtdisease.html.

The Web site also provides the following Bird-Feeding Guidelines when you see an infected bird:

  • Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding.
  • Clean your feeders on a regular basis with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) and be sure to remove any build-ups of dirt around the food openings. Allow your feeders to dry completely before re-hanging them.
  • Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
  • If you see one or two diseased birds, take your feeder down immediately and clean it with a 10% bleach solution.

If you find an injured bird, carefully put it in a cardboard box with a lid or a towel over the top, and place in a cool, safe place. Birds go into shock very easily when injured, and often die from the shock. If a bird has hit a window and is still alive, it may just need a little time to regain its senses, then may be able to fly away. Do not try to force feed or give water to the bird. If it is still alive after a few hours, you can try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator. Many belong to your state association for wildlife rehabilitators, and can be found with an on-line search.

The Wildlife Rehabber website has a listing by state of many rehabbers that might be useful: http://wildliferehabber.com/rehabber-search.

The Wildlife International website also has a directory of rehabilitators worldwide that may have other facilities listed for your region: www.wildlifeinternational.org/EN/public/emergency/emergencyrehab.html

If you have found an orphaned bird, the first step is to determine if it is really orphaned. When many young birds first fledge and leave the nest, they may still have a little down with short tail and wing feathers. Fledglings often also have weak flight muscles and may be fed for a few days by their parents outside of the nest. This is a very vulnerable time for young birds, as they are easy prey for roaming cats and other predators. It is important to keep fledglings safe and to allow the parents to continue feeding them.

If the bird has fallen out of the nest prematurely, or if a tree was cut down and a nest of young is found, a rehabber may be needed. The following chart from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association can help you determine the proper course of action: http://www.nwrawildlife.org/sites/default/files/FoundBird.pdf .

Any chemical that kills insects could potentially harm the birds that eat insects. The more natural and organic you can manage your property, the healthier it will be for you, for birds and other wildlife. The Audubon At Home website has some helpful "Action Plan" checklists and fact sheets on reducing pesticide use, as well as on reducing mowed lawns, conserving and protecting water, removing exotic plant pests, and planting native species: http://athome.audubon.org/healthy-yards

Free-roaming cats are a problem around the world for bird populations, and have been shown to decimate ground-nesting and backyard birds in many areas. Whether the cats are free-roaming pets or feral cats, you may have to obtain a live-trap to humanely capture them and bring them to a local shelter. Audubon believes the best way to protect birds from cats is to keep cats indoors.

Many counties or municipalities have ordinances that protect homeowners from pets that damage neighbor's yards. Check to see all the ordinances that currently exist relating to pets. Problem cats may, in fact, not be someone's pets, but instead might be true feral cats. A feral female cat that is not neutered can have many young that remain wild -- so you can get a large population of wild, bird-eating cats in a very short time.

If you do not have an ordinance now to keep cats indoors or with collars, you should talk to your local elected officials about the process to propose one for a local vote. Also check with your local wild bird store to see what they know about this issue.

Audubon is a partner in a national campaign called "Cats Indoors!" led by the American Bird Conservancy. Below is a link to their website that will provide you with facts, materials, and suggestions for leading a public awareness campaign in your community. www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/index.html

Hayfields, meadows or fallow fields are habitat for several species of grassland nesters, including the Meadowlark, Dickcissel, Savannah Sparrow, Prairie Chicken, Short-eared Owl, to name but a few. Ideally, fields should not be mowed until late July or early August to avoid killing nestlings.  If that is not possible, walking a field regularly and watching for nests can help determine when the young have fledged. This way, you may be able to get in a mid-summer cutting before the birds nest a second time. Your local USDA or County Conservation District office may be able to provide more details on the species most likely to be using your fields, and the nesting timetable in your region of the country. For more information on the management of grassland birds, check out this USDA leaflet:  ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/WHMI/WEB/pdf/GRASS1.pdf

Robins often stay in the vicinity of their breeding area for the winter, or may move about a several-state area in flocks. They are generally eating lots of berries, so often aren't hanging around backyards like they do the rest of the year. Like all birds, their feathers and fat reserves keep them warm for the winter, as long as they are finding food. During a snowstorm, they may "lay low" to conserve energy until the storm passes, then resume their travels in search of food. Although they don't need us to provide food during inclement weather, they seem to appreciate a heated birdbath as other water sources may be frozen or covered over temporarily.

Several species of hawks eat songbirds as their natural food. This is part of nature's predator-prey relationship that is in balance. Hawks are not overpopulated when we see them in our yards chasing smaller birds; they are simply doing what they are genetically programmed to do -- similar to Blue Jays eating other bird's eggs or squirrels eating nuts. In fact, predators often capture the slow or sick of their prey species, helping to keep those prey populations stronger genetically. If a hawk hangs around for days at a time keeping other birds away, you may need to stop feeding for a few days to discourage the hawk and help it move elsewhere. If you do get a close-up look at a hawk, consider yourself lucky to observe the beauty of these fascinating birds.

As a bird watcher, it's difficult to see small birds being captured and killed, but that is nature's design. It's been happening since birds first appeared on the planet; but we're more exposed to it when we feed songbirds--when we attract them to our yards, predators naturally follow. Unlike other birds, hawks reproduce very slowly and we are only now seeing many raptor populations recover from the massive deaths that occurred in the early 1900s from hunting and the 1960s from DDT. In fact, human-caused problems such as loss of nesting habitat, highway vehicles and electrical wires continue to impact the population of certain raptor species in many areas.

During certain times of the year, the angle of the sun can make windows turn into mirrors, reflecting the sky and vegetation making the window look like an open place to fly. Inside, hanging blinds or curtains that can be partly closed will let in light while breaking up the reflection.

Outside, hanging shiny objects in front of the window, covering the window with netting, or stringing store-bought feathers across windows may have some effect. There are decals being sold now at bird stores and online that are various wildlife images with a special coating that reflects ultraviolet light, which looks blue to birds but is clear to humans.

Anything attached to the outside needs to be spaced across the entire window to be effective. Sometimes birds hit windows as they flee from feeders when frightened. Moving feeders farther away from the window can often help in this situation. Attaching hawk-shaped decals to the inside of a window often has little effect.