Frequently Asked Questions
(An abbreviated version of this column was first published in the October 6, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)
In its May/June 2003 issue the editors of Bird Watcher's Digest celebrated their 25th year of publication with an article listing the 25 most frequently asked questions addressed to them by "backyard birders."
Because I have also been asked so many of these same questions, I offer a half-dozen of theirs here with my responses - drawing only in part upon their wisdom.
What is the best time of year to put out a bird feeder? Anytime. Most bird feeding is done in winter but, especially during and after the breeding season, birds will visit feeders and often bring their young. However, do not expect birds to visit a new feeder immediately: it may be weeks before your first customer arrives.
I don't see as many birds as I used to. What's happening? There are many reasons for this. Bird populations fluctuate and local populations change as land use changes. If your neighborhood is filling in and lawns are replacing meadows and woodlands, you should expect these changes. (For example, our pheasants left when a road was built behind our home.) But individual observations of such changes are often untrustworthy: seasonal censuses by the Buffalo Ornithological Society taken for over 60 years suggest that the regional bird population is more stable than may seem apparent. A few species like the brown thrasher are indeed threatened but others, like the wood thrush about which I am often asked, appear to be holding their own or even increasing across the area.
How can I keep birds from flying into my windows? I add their answer to my own given in earlier columns: "Silhouettes of flying hawks...do work but they perform best when applied on the outside of the glass. Hanging ornaments such as wind-chimes, wind socks, and potted plants in front of windows also helps. Misting the outside of the window with a very weak detergent or soda solution will eliminate the reflection but will also impair visibility for you. Awnings, eave extensions and window screens will eliminate all reflection.... Plastic cling wrap applied to the inside or outside of the window can also be effective."
How can I get birds to visit my birdbath? Moving water is a good attractant. Suspend a water container punctured with small top and bottom holes over it to provide a continuous drip. Note: winter birdbaths regularly refreshed with warm water are especially well received.
I found a bird with a band on its leg. What should I do? Contact the Bird Banding Laboratory at the Patuxent Wildlife Center in Maryland. Their phone number is 800-327-2263 and their web address is www.pwrc.usgs.gov/. Eventually they'll send you information about where and when the bird was banded.
I found an injured bird. What should I do with it? Although they are not always strictly enforced, the regulations regarding the handling of any wild animals have become increasingly strict. If you handle a bird, you are probably breaking the law and in some cases endangering yourself as well. Dead or dying birds may be afflicted with West Nile virus. Your best bet is to leave any animal alone and let nature take its course. You may wish to report dead birds, especially crows, to the Department of Environmental Conservation at 851-7010 and injured animals of any kind to a licensed rehabilitator. You can obtain a referral from your veterinarian or from the Messinger Woods Wildlife Center or at 648-5179.
Readers who want answers to a list of a hundred similar inquiries should contact Bird Watcher's Digest at 800-879-2473 or PO Box 110, Marietta, OH 45750 to order their Backyard Bird Watcher's Answer Guide.
You may also find information at the Bird Watcher's Digest website.