Q: What can I do about sparrows or other birds nesting on my house?
House Sparrows and European Starlings are non-native species, brought over 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 ¼ 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 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 you can. 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.
Q: I found an injured/sick bird. What should I do?
Although your initial reaction might be to help the bird, you should exercise extreme caution. If the animal is a bird of prey, its talons are capable of exerting enough pressure to puncture skin and muscle, even through cloth and thin leather. Great care must be exercised when handling raptors and usually this is best left to licensed wildlife handlers and falconers.
All other bird species, even if they’re not birds of prey, should be approached with the same degree of vigilance. Herons and Egrets, for example, possess long pointed bills to snatch fish from water and when confronted by a predator they will strike toward the eyes of a perceived enemy. This is why it is prudent, if you find an injured or sick bird, that you contact the closest wild life rehabilitator center before you attempt to help the bird. Remember that permits are required in order to legally handle or keep wild birds. Visit the NC Wildlife Resources Commission website for a list of wildlife rehabilitators in your area:
Q: I found a baby bird that must have fallen out of the nest. What should I do?
As a general rule, it’s important to not interfere with nests or chicks. Remember, all birds are protected by state and federal laws. Any action in which you pick up a bird is considered illegal, even if you have good intentions of rescuing it or letting it go elsewhere. However, if a chick is in imminent danger, such as hopping around on the ground while being stalked by a nearby cat, shoo the cat away and try to shuffle the chick off to some nearby shrubbery. If the cat belongs to a neighbor, politely inform its owner of your city’s pet policies, which usually include the requirement that both dogs and cats be leashed at all times while outdoors. If the cat is a stray, contact your local animal control center.
It is actually quite common for chicks to venture from their nest before they are capable of flight. During this period, young birds scramble around low branches of shrubs and trees and may end up 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.
It is a myth that parent birds will abandon a chick if they smell your scent on it. However, if you touch a chick, your scent rubs off on it and is easily detected by predators. Perhaps you want to help the bird placing it back in the nest, but this is not recommended because the bird may have left the nest on its own accord, or the parent birds may have ejected it because it is time for it to leave, or the chick may be sick and thus pose a threat to siblings.
Q: How can I keep birds from flying into my windows?
Sadly, an estimated one hundred million to one billion birds crash into windows every year in North America. These collisions are often fatal and are caused by birds seeing reflections of trees and shrubbery from outside. Fortunately, the FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program) website has helpful tips for keeping birds away from your windows. Audubon recommends hanging a sun catcher or draperies over windows to reduce reflection. It’s become popular to place silhouettes in windows to ward off birds, but studies have not proven this to be an effective deterrent, especially after birds acclimate to the static image.
If you have bird feeders around your house, place them close to windows instead of far away so that approaching birds are already slowing their speed in order to perch on the feeder. If possible, in advance to the construction of your home or other buildings, design windows that are installed at an angle that is directed downward. The glass won’t reflect the woods and landscape from outside, and the design won’t impede your ability to look out the window. If you’re interested in not only saving birds, but also in reducing your energy bill, you can apply a thin opaque film to the surface of the windows that prevents infrared radiation from coming through the glass. The film is only slightly visible, but its reduction in heat entering your home can dramatically cut cooling costs.
Q: A bird keeps attacking a window - what should I do?
Birds that are defending nesting territory around your home, including bluebirds, cardinals and flycatchers, might see their reflection on glass and misinterpret the image as another bird invading their territory. Seeing their image prompts some birds to do battle against themselves, banging and flapping against the glass for minutes and even hours on end; much to our dismay. The solution to this is to construct something that takes away the reflective nature of glass, including window screen.
Q: What can I do about woodpeckers pecking my house?
Male woodpeckers sometimes pound on a chimney, gutters, window shutters, and any other hard and resonating object to advertise their territory. Unfortunately, early morning is often the male woodpecker’s favorite time to do this and he’ll select a drumming site based in part on how well the sound carries. This territorial behavior is mostly conducted during courtship and nesting and is a way for the bird to proclaim, “Hey, this is my turf!”
If a woodpecker is causing physical damage to walls and siding it may not be from territorial pronouncements but rather because there are insects in the wood that the woodpecker is trying to extract, including carpenter bees, ants, and termites. Woodpeckers rarely damage wood if they are using it to make a resonating sound.
If a woodpecker is chiseling a building in pursuit of food the remedy is to remove the food source and repair the damage. Once the food is removed the woodpecker will likely not return. If the woodpecker’s activity is territorial you can try spraying a pepper spray on the surface he is hammering. Hanging pie pans and balloons in the area where he is working may also scare away the bird. Nonmoving objects such as scarecrows and silhouettes may work initially, but birds quickly acclimate to their presence.
Q: What is this bird that is singing at night? It is driving me crazy!
Male Northern Mockingbirds will sing at night while their mate is sitting on eggs and he usually stops as soon as the eggs hatch. The reason he does this is not fully understood, but it may have to do with pair-bonding and territorial display. The Northern Bobwhite Quail and Eastern Screech Owl may also be heard calling at night but their singing is usually not as persistent or as varied as the mockingbird.
Two other nighttime singers include the Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow; insect-eating members of the goatsucker family of birds that sing to proclaim territory and maintain pair-bonds with a mate.
Other nightly singers include a host of frogs and toads, along with many kinds of crickets and their kin. While the din some of these animals produce may be annoying, imagine how frustrating our domestic noises are to wildlife; from bustling trucks and cars to raucous outdoor sporting and music events. While this is no consolation, it does underscore the old adage: One animal’s concert is another’s cacophony.
Q: I found a live/dead bird with a band on it. Do I need to report it?
It’s important to report banded birds, but it’s not required by law. If you find a dead bird that has been banded you are allowed to record the number of bands, the color and placement order of each band, and which legs the bands are located upon. Technically it is a violation of Federal law to handle wild birds without proper permits and it is therefore best to report the bird to an authority rather than collecting the animal yourself. There is also a health issue to consider regarding handling dead or sick birds, especially bacteria that may be transmitted to people. There could be exposure risk if the bird died from toxic pesticides. Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or a wildlife agency.
If you’re unsure about what species you’ve found, consult a field guide such as Audubon's online bird guide. If you see bands on a live bird, try to use a spotting scope or binoculars to figure out the bird’s species and to determine its unique color sequence and location of bands if you intend to voluntarily report it.
To learn more about bird banding in the United States, including where to report band information, visit the Bird Banding Laboratory website.
Q: What types of birds are threatened or endangered where I live and how can I help these birds?
Audubon’s website provides helpful resources about birds in decline and special reports on some of the threats that birds face.
Q: I think I’ve spotted a rare bird in my yard. How can I be sure it is a rare bird? Should I contact somebody even if I’m not sure?
Look in a field guide such as the Sibley Field Guide to Birds so you can properly identify the species. If you are unable to identify the bird using a field guide, check out an online guide on the Audubon or Cornell websites. If your online search proves fruitless, experts at your local Audubon office will be happy to help you.
Q: A development is planned for some nearby woods, and I know it’s going to harm the birds. What should I do?
Try to have a friendly, but informative, conversation with the developer about what birds and wildlife might be on the property. Do not trespass even for the sake of birds. It’s important to contact the developer before construction begins. Before construction begins, you might be able to convince the developer to consider minimal and low impact development practices including clearing vegetation on a lot by lot basis, beginning with house and driveway footprint areas only. This process of clearing land is highly selective; it only removes vegetation that’s required for construction; sort of a “first do no harm approach.”
If plans are to extensively develop the land for marketing purposes, you can share statistics with the developer that show how it is more economical to develop in an environmentally friendly way than it is to clear land and later be forced to pay a landscaper to redesign and replant vegetation. Be sure to narrate the natural history of the land to the developer, while providing good ideas for land use practices that will help sustain the natural quality of the land and work with the developer’s corporate goals. Also, don’t underestimate your influence at the city and county levels. Attend city council and county commission meetings to make sure developments are being built in an environmentally sensitive manner. Most Audubon Chapters are involved in efforts to help protect natural resources in their area, and chapter contacts can be found on this page on the website.
Q: I have a question that is not addressed on this page.
Please visit the bird FAQ on National Audubon's website.