FAQs About Backyard Birds

Top 10 Bird Questions


Red bellied woodpecker at a suet feeder
photo by Noppadol Paothong, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Why aren't there any birds at my feeder?

An absence of feeder birds may be due to an abundance of natural foods. Or sometimes seeds become spoiled or lack "hearts" due to poor development or weevils. Also, the feeder may be contaminated. Wash your feeder and try seed from a different source. Place the feeder so it is not vulnerable to predators.

How do I stop woodpeckers from hammering on my house?

Discontinue feeders that attract woodpeckers. Try placing wind socks, wind chimes, balloons, pinwheels or shiny, colorful streamers near and slightly above where the woodpecker is doing damage. Artificial owls and snakes may be worth a try if all else fails. Identify and cover metal objects that woodpeckers hammer on to advertise their territories.

What do I do about the hawk that's eating the birds at my feeder?

Try to remember that hawks are natural predators. This is what they must do to survive. If you still feel guilty about tricking a bird into becoming prey, move the feeder closer to shrubs and trees that they can use as escape cover. You might also discontinue feeding for a while so the hawk will move on.

When should I put up and take down my hummingbird feeder?

Most hummingbirds arrive around April 20-25 although some arrive earlier in south Missouri, and most depart around early October. A hummingbird feeder can be placed anytime during that period. Most hummers occur in Missouri during the spring and fall migratory periods. September is typically the most satisfying month to feed hummers. There is no evidence that feeding delays their migration progress south in the fall.

Why is that bird fluttering against my window and how do I get it to stop?

The bird is typically a colorful male (such as a cardinal, bluebird or robin) who is attempting to drive away what he perceives to be an intruder in his breeding territory. Sometimes the placement of a light surface behind the window will lessen the reflectivity of the window just enough to make the bird stop. Frightening objects, such as artificial owls or snakes, wind socks or chimes, may work. Window fighting usually occurs during only a week or two in spring and summer. Soaping a window will temporarily cover the reflection and a good rain will wash it off.

How do I keep birds from hitting my window?

Birds hit windows because they have mistaken the reflection as open space. Often they are frightened into this error by a hawk or some other surprise. A feeder placed within three feet of a window may prevent birds from building up deadly speed before the collision. Paper cut-outs spaced about the window pane may help to show birds that it is a surface. Birds stunned after hitting windows often revive.

What do I do with the young bird I see out of its nest?

Leave it alone and keep pets away. Most young birds leave the nest well before they are able to fly. Their parents, who may be rarely seen, will return as needed to feed them. Not only is picking up the bird a violation, it disrupts the bird's opportunity to learn survival skills. On the rare occasions that a featherless young is found on the ground, an effort should be made to replace it in its nest. If a nest has fallen, fasten it in a tree near to where it was found. Birds don’t have highly developed senses of smell, so touching the bird is not a problem.

What can I do for the injured bird I have found?

If the bird simply suffered a concussion and there are no broken bones, there's a chance for survival. Often, keeping disturbance to a minimum until the bird can revive on its own is the best course of action. Because bird bones are hollow, breaks—especially in the wings and legs—have a poor prognosis. From a population standpoint, efforts to save individuals of short-lived species such as songbirds are not justified.

What can I do about the neighbor's cat?

Most likely your neighbor isn't aware that there are an estimated 44 million free-ranging, hunting cats in the United States. Unlike hawks, cats are an unnatural threat and devastating to ground-nesting birds. Ask neighbors to keep their cats inside most of the time during the nesting season—from March through August.

Why are all these dead birds in my yard?

Sometimes several birds can be killed at once when they eat granular insecticides, herbicides or fertilizers that are not watered well into lawns. Or, the worms, grubs and insects they consume may be contaminated by these poisons. Diseases such as aspergillosis, salmonellosis, trichomoniasis, avian pox and conjunctivitis are possible. These are not contagious to humans. Control diseases by keeping feeders and the area beneath them clean or discontinue feeding for a while. Also, spread out bird feeders or feeding areas – try not to concentrate the birds in one area, because diseases are transferred through contact.

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