Frequently Asked Questions - Threats to Birds

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.