FAQs About Birds

Wood Thrush. Photo: Mary Parker Sonis

FAQs About Birds

From "I found an injured bird" to "A bird keeps attacking my window! What do I do?" we answer your most common questions here. 

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. Wild birds are protected by state and federal law and it is against the law to possess them. 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 rehabilitators.

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. They use their long sharp bills as defensive weapons not because they are mean, nasty animals, but because they are scared and protecting themselves. This is why it is prudent, if you find an injured or sick bird, that you contact the closest wildlife 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.

The National Audubon Society has a great information to solve your frequently asked bird questions..

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers helpful tips for people who find sick birds at their feeder.

Q: I found a baby bird that must have fallen out of the nest. What should I do?
Again, remember that 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. As a general rule, it's important to avoid interfering with nests or chicks. It is 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.

However, if a chick is in imminent danger, such as hopping around on the ground while being stalked by a nearby cat or dog there are actions you can take. Try to shoo the animal away and “herd” the chick off to some nearby shrubbery where it may find protection. It is a myth that parent birds will abandon a chick if they smell your scent on it. However, if you do touch a chick, your scent rubs off on it, making the chick more easily detected by predators. You may be tempted to place a chick back in a nest, but this is not recommended. 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 its siblings.

If you find a bird that appears to be in need of help because of sickness or injury, your first step should be to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator for advice and assistance on how to capture the bird and where to take it. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission maintains a list of licensed rehabbers on its website. Refer to this list to find contact information for a rehabber in your county.

Q: When can I safely mow my field without disturbing nests?
Hayfields, meadows or fallow fields are habitat for several species of grassland nesters including the BobolinkEastern MeadowlarkGrasshopper SparrowDickcisselVesper and Savannah Sparrow. 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. If you must mow during nesting season, we recommend planning to mow field sections in alternating rotations to leave adequate areas in higher grasses at any given time. For more information on the management of grassland birds, check out this USDA leaflet.

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 reflected in the windows keeping them from discerning the glass from habitat.

 The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) website has helpful tips for keeping birds away from your windows. Placing silhouette images in windows is not effective over the long term as birds become acclimated to the static image. However, here are some steps you can take:

  • Hang a sun-catcher or drapery over windows to reduce reflection.
  • 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.
  • Design windows that are installed at a downward angle. The glass won't reflect the woods and landscape from outside, nor will it impede your ability to look out the window.

If you're interested in saving energy along with birds, 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 of 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 the 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. The solution to this is to take away the reflection with window screen, hanging panels or other outside window coverings during the nesting season.

Q: What can I build to help birds on my property? 
The easiest things to construct are feeders and houses. Species have specific requirements for things like the interior size of the nest box and most importantly the diameter of the entry hole. For examples, check out

Another simple project that can benefit birds is to build brush piles for the winter months, especially in a corner of the yard or near your feeding station if you have one. These simple piles can protect birds from predators, give them a sense of safety to approach your feeders and provide shelter from inclement weather. You could also add water features to your yard, as you can attract just as many species with water as you can with food or shelter. For a bigger project, try a Chimney Swift tower

Q: What can I do about woodpeckers pecking my house?
Male woodpeckers sometimes pound on chimneys, gutters, window shutters or other hard surfaces to advertise their territory. Early morning is often a favorite time for this display, and woodpeckers will select the surface that gives them the sound that carries the farthest. This behavior is short-lived and should be tolerated if possible. You can also try spraying a pepper spray on the surface the bird is hammering. Hanging pie pans and balloons in the area may also scare away the bird. Nonmoving objects such as scarecrows and silhouettes may work initially, but birds quickly acclimate to their presence.

Woodpeckers rarely damage wood if they are using it for territorial display. However, if a woodpecker is causing physical damage to walls and siding, it may instead be because there are insects in the wood that the woodpecker is trying to extract, including carpenter bees, ants and termites. 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.

Q: What is this bird that is singing at night?
Male Northern Mockingbirds will sing at night while their mate is sitting on eggs, and will usually stop 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 nighttime singing birds 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 sounds 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 scientific research 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 because of 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 someone even if I'm not sure?
Consult 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?
Do not trespass, even for the sake of birds and wildlife. Instead, have a friendly, informative conversation with the developer about what birds and wildlife you think use the property. It's important to contact the developer before construction begins when you might be able to convince the developer to consider minimal and low impact building practices such as 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.

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. For additional resources, check out our Bird-Friendly Communities page.

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 1/4 inch in diameter, while the larger starlings need holes at least 1 5/8 inch in diameter. 

The best way to stop these birds from nesting on your house is to block any and all possible nest holes with boards or another 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 or around 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 for the four weeks between the laying of eggs and the chicks leaving the nest. Remove the nest and clean the area with a strong disinfectant after the birds are gone.

Q: I have a question that is not addressed on this page.
Please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page on the National Audubon Society’s website.

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