Bird Stuff You Should Know


I found a baby bird. What do I do?

The answer in nearly every case is leave it alone. It is normal for baby birds that are not fully feathered to leave the nest well before they are able to fly. It is also normal for them to be left alone while the parents are out foraging for them. Attempts to raise a baby bird by non-professionals invariably result in a period of suffering for the bird, followed by death. Further, it is illegal to possess a wild, native bird without a license.

The chances of survival even for “rehabilitated” birds is bleak. The Bird Ecology Study Group notes,

“The chances of such birds surviving in the wild after their ‘rescue’ are slim. Chances are, we nurse them to health so that they can be easy food for predators. In most cases we do not actually witness their being predated and thus feel satisfied doing a good turn.”

For more information, download our baby bird information brochure (pdf, 88 KB).

Other experts saying the same thing: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Journey North.

RRBO cannot take in baby birds, sick birds, or injured birds. You will have to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you.

I found a sick or injured bird. What do I do?

Often the answer here is also to leave it alone, and let nature take it’s course. Birds can be very difficult to rehabilitate, if they survive a trip to a local rehabilitator. You will have to check with a local humane society or state wildlife department for locations. Do not give the bird any food or water. If you are the least bit tempted to take this bird into your care, here are some things to think about first:

  • It is illegal for citizens to possess native species of birds, are you willing to deal with those consequences? In some states and localities, it is legal to possess a non-native species, but illegal to release it once it is in captivity. Are you willing to make a long-term commitment to this animal?
  • Are you willing to take the time for round-the-clock care? Take time off of work?
  • Birds require constant, specialized care with diets tailored to the needs of the species. Are you willing to research this and spend the time and money to prepare these foods?
  • How will you feel if the bird dies because of improper care? Most birds taken in by untrained citizens die.
  • If you took the bird in even knowing it was not a good idea to do so, are you sure that you will not become so attached to the bird that you will be able to release it?
  • Are you sure the bird will survive on its own once it is released? There are survival skills for many species that humans are unable to provide. How will you make sure the bird does not become habituated to humans while in your care?
  • Are you willing to take the risk that the bird may have a disease or parasite that can be transmitted to you or your pets?
  • Taking all this into consideration, is this the best possible course of action for this bird?

RRBO cannot take in baby birds, sick birds, or injured birds. You will have to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you.

Why do birds keep flying into their reflection in my window?

Check out these suggestions from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. You might also want to learn more about preventing window collisions, a major source of mortality for birds.

How do I stop a woodpecker from drumming on my house?

A recent published study in the Journal of Wildlife Management tested different types of deterrents. The only one that was usually effective was a reflective metallic streamer, hung from the eaves of the home, called IRRI-TAPE. To learn more about why they rat-ta-tat-ta-tat, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Woodpeckers: Damage, Prevention and Control and their blog post on the same topic.

I have a bald cardinal at my feeder! What is wrong with it?

Nothing is wrong with it. It is undergoing an unusual molt (some individuals molt all of their head feathers simultaneously rather than gradually), or may, in rare cases, have feather mites. Read more about this — with photos — in RRBO’s Net Results blog post “Bald Birds.”

What should I know if I want to put up a nest box?

In order to be ecologically sound, nest boxes must be constructed in specific dimensions, and require follow up and maintenance. Learn more about this commitment by downloading our next boxes brochure (pdf).

What if I want to put out nesting materials for birds?

For the most part, birds are able to find their own nesting material. However, you can give them a hand by making materials handy for them. This article from Cornell provides a complete overview of providing nesting materials for birds. One item that is very important to note: Do not put out dryer lint for birds! It holds too much water, it turns brittle and compacted, and can contain detergent residues. It’s just not a very good option.

What is the best kind of bird feeder? The best type of bird seed? How do I attract woodpeckers/cardinals/etc.?

For all you need to know about bird feeding, check out National Audubon’s Bird Feeding Basics. They also provide a great brochure (pdf) on bird feeding. It’s important to keep birds safe at your feeding stations, so learn more about preventing window collisions and protecting birds from cats. Cornell Lab of Ornthology has great information on diseases that commonly inflict feeder birds (House Finch eye disease, avian pox, salmonellosis, aspergillosus, and trichomoniasis) and what you can do to prevent more birds from becoming infected.

I found banded bird. What should I do?

Please visit our detailed page on reporting banded wild birds. Please note that if the bird is a pigeon, it is not banded by a bander licensed under the Bird Banding Lab. We do not have information on banded pigeons. These are privately banded, and there is no centralized database of pigeon bands. However, it may be a racing pigeon, and the American Racing Pigeon Union can help you locate the club where the owner of the bird might be found.

Do I really need to keep my cat indoors? She’s well fed and wears a bell: shouldn’t that be okay?

Cats absolutely should be kept indoors, they kill millions of birds (and other wildlife) annually. RRBO has devoted an entire page to this important topic: please visit our page on cats and birds.

What can I do about bees, ants, or wasps at my hummingbird feeder?

There are several things that will help deter insects from taking over your hummingbird feeders. First, get a feeder that doesn’t have yellow parts or remove yellow parts from the feeder. Some research has indicated bees and waps are attracted to yellow. Find a feeder in which the sugar solution is deep — accessible to the long bills and tongues of hummingbird but not the mouthparts of bees. Use an ant guard on your hanging feeder, which creates a well of water that ants can’t cross; they are sold wherever you can buy hummingbird feeders. Keep the outside of the feeder clean, so the insects are not attracted to sweet residue. If insects have already found your feeder, try moving it. Put out a dish of sugar water in another place in the yard to lure the insects away. For more information on deterring insects, see these tips at Operation Rubythroat, which also has a page of tips on feeding hummingbirds and many frequently asked questions answered by an established hummingbird researcher.

If I leave my hummingbird feeder up in the fall, will it prevent the hummingbirds from migrating?

No. Hummingbirds will migrate based on hormonal and environmental cues. It doesn’t matter how many feeders or blooming flowers you have in your yard, they will go when they are ready. In southern Michigan, you can leave your feeders up into mid-October to host tardy birds. It’s also the time when rare species (other than our usual Ruby-throated Hummingbird) may show up! See the Operation Rubythroat web site for more tips on feeding hummingbirds and many frequently asked questions answered by an established hummingbird researcher.

What are the best plants to put in my yard for birds and wildlife?

You can download the RRBO brochure, Landscaping for Migratory Birds (pdf, 424 KB) which focuses on this region. Also take a look at National Audubon’s Plants for Birds and Wildlife website as well as the excellent tips at Cornell’s Celebrate Urban Birds web page Ten Ways to Landscape for Songbirds.

How do I get rid of House Sparrows?

House Sparrows are non-native species, and as such are not protected by law (native species cannot be killed, harassed, or disturbed). They can cause problems for native birds species. Make sure you can correctly identify House Sparrows so you do not disturb a native species. To reduce the number of House Sparrows in your yard:

  • Do not feed bread or bakery items.
  • Use larger seeds (safflower or sunflower). Use tube feeders with plastic perches and trim off 1/4 inch from each perch so they have a harder time using the feeder (small birds will still be able to perch).
  • Do not feed on a platform feeder or the ground, or let seed accumulate on the ground.
  • Use a “magic halo” at your feeder (suppliers here for those who don’t make their own).
  • Do not put up decorative bird boxes. Use only boxes designed for birds that will use them in your area (see question below).
  • Do not let them nest under loose eaves troughs or other nooks and crannies on your property. Because they are not protected, you can remove their nests, eggs, or young.
  • House Sparrows may be trapped, but this means you have to do something with them. Letting them go somewhere else is sometimes illegal and does not solve the problem — it has been likened to bailing out the front of the boat and dumping the water back into the rear. Some wildlife rehabilitators will take live House Sparrows to feed their birds of prey. Call first to make arrangements. Otherwise, you will have to learn how to humanely euthanize the birds.

I am worried about bird flu.

Please visit our Avian Flu page for questions and answers regarding avian influenza and migratory birds.

What are some good birding locations in Michigan?

Visit Bruce Bowman’s excellent site on local, statewide, and regional birding destinations.  There are links to many spots, including web sites, checklists, maps and directions.

  • Hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese.
  • If you touch a baby bird, the parents will abandon it.
  • If a bird eats rice thrown at a wedding, it’s stomach will explode.
  • Bird feeders/hummingbird feeders prevent birds/hummingbirds from migrating.
  • Birds will starve if I take down my feeders in winter.
  • A duck’s quack does not echo.

Take a look at the National Wildlife Federation’s 10 Myths About Bird Behavior.

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