BIRD FEEDER PROBLEMS
...Compliments of Wild Birds Forever
We've all had the same problems: squirrels taking over our bird feeders, bird seed that sprouts under our feeders, no birds at the bird feeder or undesirable birds becoming pests. We've gathered a comprehensive list of your most frequently asked questions and offer you some practical solutions for them below.
PROBLEM #1: THOSE *!#*#*! SQUIRRELS!
This controversial topic is just too HOT!!! It deserves it's own page!
PROBLEM: HOW CAN I STOP THE BIRD SEED FROM SPROUTING UNDER MY FEEDERS?
Here are some simple solutions:
Sterilize your bird seed. For a gallon of seed, place it in a paper bag and cook it on high in the microwave for 5 minutes. In a conventional oven, place on a flat baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes at 300 degrees. Sterilizing your seed will not alter the attractiveness or nutritional value of the seed for your birds.
Select a mess free feeder or incorporate a tray attachment at the bottom of your feeder to catch falling seed.
Try switching the seed you offer to birds' favorites: whole, black oil sunflower seed or chips (sunflower chips won't sprout even if they land on the ground!) or a waste free blend of seed. Many bird seed mixes found in grocery or discount stores contain large amounts of filler seed such as milo and millet that birds will kick on the ground in search of their preferred seed.
Try these ideas to remedy your loneliness at the backyard feeder:
Check for a new predator in the area. A neighbor's cat or a predatory bird like a hawk. Ask your neighbor to tie a bell around the cat to warn your birds of its approach or simply block the cat from entering your backyard. Provide adequate perching and hiding places with trees and shrubs near your feeder so birds can flee and hide when danger approaches such as a predatory hawk.
Check the cleanliness of your bird feeder and freshness of your bird seed. Take all of your bird feeders down and wash them thoroughly in a 10 percent bleach solution. Allow them to dry thoroughly before refilling. Refill with fresh seed or try switching to most birds' favorite seed: black oil sunflower seed.
If you don't have a water source already, add water! This is a magnet to most birds. Offer a pedestal type bird feeder and a platform feeder to accommodate both your perching birds and ground feeding birds.
Avoid using chemical insecticides or fertilizers in your garden. Grubs and insects are good eating and attractive to robins, wrens, phoebes and woodpeckers! Use of pesticides can poison or deter these birds from visiting your backyard.
Sometimes there is simply enough natural food available in the area, that the birds won't visit your feeder. Be patient, as the seasons change and food sources diminish, they should return!
PROBLEM: HOW DO I GET RID OF UNDESIRABLE BIRDS LIKE STARLINGS, GRACKLES, BLACKBIRDS, DOVES AND FINCHES?
This common complaint can be solved usually with the type of bird feeder or food you are offering. First determine what is attracting the bird and move to remove it or build a barrier between the bird and what it finds so attractive.
Try using small tubular feeders with small perches. This will attract the smaller songbirds, but the larger birds will not be able to fit on the perches. Also, special feeders are available to screen out larger birds but allow the smaller, more desirable birds to feed. (See picture at left.)
To discourage house finches, take the perches off your tube feeders. They can't cling very well and will be discouraged.
To get rid of blackbirds and sparrows, stop offering cracked corn
To discourage doves and sparrows, stop feeding bird mixes.
To keep the starlings from taking over your suet feeder, try a bottom feed suet feeder. Starlings don't like to hang upside down for very long!
PROBLEM: WHAT DO I DO WITH AN ABANDONED BABY BIRD OR AN INJURED BIRD?
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A BABY BIRD:
If the bird is feathered and uninjured, it is best to leave it alone. The parents should continue to take care of it. If the bird is in danger, you can place it back in the nest or in a shrub, out of harm's way. Contrary to popular belief, parent birds will not abandon the nest if you handle the nestling. If the baby bird is not feathered, cold, injured, in danger or if you know it is orphaned, then you should rescue it. Keep the bird warm and in a quiet, dark place. It is best if you don't try to feed it. Instead contact one of the following organizations for help:
A Local Bird Rehabilitator
U.S. Fish & Game Office
If you find a local bird rehabilitator, consider a financial donation. Most are volunteers.
IF YOU FIND A STUNNED OR INJURED BIRD: If you find a bird stunned under your window, leave it alone unless there is a threat of predators. If the temperature is cold, or predators are a threat, place the bird in a cardboard box in a warm, quiet place until you see it hopping around. Release the bird near dense foliage to give it more time to recover. If the bird is injured, call your local nature center, department of natural resources or veterinarian for the name of a wildlife rehabilitator who can care for it.
If woodpeckers are drumming or pecking at your house, the first thing to consider is what type of noise they are making. Woodpeckers make two different pecking noises:
A loud, rapid drumming noise on resonant surfaces occurring in bursts of 1-2 seconds is their way of announcing their presence in a territory or attracting a mate during the breeding season. This type of behavior is their way of signaling or communicating like song in other birds. This type of behavior usually subsides once the breeding season passes.
The sound of light, irregular pecking often indicates they are pecking for food or excavating a nest hole.
Once you have determined the cause for the pecking, here are some remedial actions you can take:
Since resident woodpeckers drum against hard, resonant surfaces to proclaim territory, they are likely to return to the same spot repeatedly during the breeding season. Drumming won't physically damage your house but can be aggravating when the activity happens in the early morning or the site is a metal gutter, downspout or the wooden siding of a house. To discourage drumming, deaden the resonant area by filling with caulk or try to modify the surface of the chosen site by covering it with fabric or foam. It might also work to provide an alternative drumming site by nailing two boards together at just one end and hanging on a secure surface.
If the pecking activity is not restricted to one site or occurs throughout the year, the birds are likely drilling for food. They are attracted to insect infested wood. Your first step is to control the insects. Consult with a licensed pest control operator on how to remove the pests and make necessary repairs.
You may observe the woodpecker drilling a cavity for nesting, roosting or caching food. Look for round, deep openings, often near knot holes in boards. In the spring and summer, assume there is an active nest with eggs or hatchlings inside, wait until you are sure all the birds have fledged the nest, then immediately repair the openings. Plug small holes with caulking or wood filler, larger ones with wooden plugs, steel wool or wire screen before sealing.
Woodpeckers prefer cedar and redwood siding but will damage pine, fir, cypress and others when choices are limited. Natural or stained wood surfaces are preferred over painted wood. Particularly vulnerable to damage are rustic-appearing channeled (grooved to simulate reverse board and batten) plywoods with cedar or redwood veneers. Imperfections (core gaps) in the intercore plywood layers exposed by the vertical grooves may harbor insects. Woodpeckers often break out these core gaps, leaving characteristic, narrow horizontal damage patterns in their search for insects.
At the first sign of woodpecker activity on your house, woodpeckers can be scared away by making noises at a nearby window or against the adjacent inside wall. Hang strips of foil, fabric or commercially available bird netting hung from the eaves to deter the birds. Other scare tactics include hanging balloons in the area, a child's pinwheel, flash tape, strings of shiny, noisy tin can lids, wind chimes and/or pulsating water sprinklers. Care should be taken not to scare birds away from an active nest.
If these scare tactics don't work, create a physical barrier by screening the site with hardware cloth, sheet metal, or nylon bird netting. Netting is one of the most effective methods of excluding woodpeckers. A mesh of 3/4" is usually recommended. At least 3" of space should be left between the netting and the damaged building so that birds cannot cause damage through the netting.
If you have a birdfeeder that attracts woodpeckers, you might think removing your feeder will cause the bird to leave. Just the opposite may be true. Keeping a feeder full of suet may discourage the birds not to look at your house for food!
If you have dead trees in your yard, you might think removing them and the insects they harbor will solve your woodpecker problems. Again, the opposite may be true. Cutting down dead and decaying trees deprives the birds of nesting, drumming and food sites and may force them to take a look at your house.
Ask your neighbor to tie a bell around the cat to warn your birds of its approach or simply block the cat from entering your backyard. Provide adequate perching and hiding places with trees and shrubs near your feeder so birds can flee and hide when danger approaches.
The best way to avoid bees is to deny them access to the syrup. The HummZinger, HummZinger Excel and the Hummerfest feeders are inherently bee and wasp-proof because the syrup level is too low for insects to reach, but easily in range of the shortest hummingbird tongue. If you choose not to try a new feeder and bees or wasps persist, first try moving the feeder, even just a few feet; insects are not very smart, and will assume the food source is gone forever. They may never find it in its new location, while the hummingbirds will barely notice that it was moved. If that doesn't work, take the feeder down for a day, or until you stop seeing wasps looking for it. You'll see hummingbirds looking for it, too, but they won't give up nearly as soon as the wasps.
And here's a great suggestion from one of our visitors.....
"Just to let you know I think I have finally solved the problem of ants attacking the hummingbird feeder. The feeder is hung by a metal rod with hooks at both ends. The substance that has finally worked to keep ants from crawling to the feeder but not have a smell that will chase away the
hummingbirds is a sticky substance that comes on cards designed to attract and catch whiteflies. Just roll the hanging rod into the sticky substance (which does not melt down onto the feeder in hot weather--I am in so.calif) and hang the feeder. Thanks for the enjoyable web site." Bob Langston
PROBLEM: WHEN DO I TAKE DOWN MY HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS FOR THE WINTER?
Contrary to popular belief, leaving your hummingbird feeders up will not interfere with hummingbird migration. All birds migrate based on hormonal changes brought on by changing daylight hours. In fact, hummingbirds can readily use the energy found at backyard hummingbird feeders as they begin their long migration journeys.
We advise taking your feeder down when you feel comfortable or wait until you no longer see hummingbirds feeding for several weeks. Usually, its safe to take your feeder down after the first frost, but use your own good judgement.
PROBLEM: WHEN SHOULD I PUT MY HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS BACK UP FOR THE SPRING?
Many folks ask us when to put up their hummingbird feeders for spring. Many ruby throated hummingbirds start re-entering the United States in March and April, and start moving Northward. If you are in a part of the country where you take your feeder down for the winter months, we recommend the following:
…Put your feeder back up when YOU feel comfortable. If you start to see hummingbirds, get them up!
…If the spring weather starts to break for your area, get them up!
At least have your hummingbird feeders back up by March and April to attract the first returning hummingbirds to your yard first!
PSST!! Many of you living in the southwestern areas can leave your hummingbird feeders up all year!
PROBLEM: HOW CAN I CLEAN THE HARD TO REACH PLASTIC OR GLASS BOTTLE TO MY HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER?
There is a simple trick to this age old problem. Fill your bottle with a light soap or bleach solution. Add some uncooked rice to the mixture, then shake. Voila! The rice acts as friction to get all the gunk out!
PROBLEM: HOW CAN I KEEP MY TUBE STYLE OR GRAVITY FED HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER FROM DRIPPING?
Tube-type gravity fed hummingbird feeders have been around for a long time and are very popular with hummingbirds because they simulate the tube shape of many nectar-bearing flowers. However, because of their design, these feeders may occasionally drip.
How to stop the dripping? There is no perfect answer - feeders will drip occasionally. However, we do have several recommendations to minimize dripping, so that you can truly enjoy your feeder:
Most importantly: always fill the feeder completely full with cool nectar. Insert the stopper and invert quickly to avoid any air entering the feeder. Tube feeders operate on a vacuum principle. Only if the feeder is initially filled completely full will the vacuum form!
Hang your feeder in shade or partial shade. The cooler the feeder, the less likely it is to drip. Try our PAR-A-SOL Shade! Make sure to keep the feeder very clean by regularly cleaning with hot water and a bottle brush. Try periodically using a vinegar rinse to thoroughly clean your feeder and then rinse well with hot water.
Bird Watcher's Digest Press The Backyard Bird Watcher’s Answer Guide
101 Backyard Questions Answered; 42 Solutions to Backyard Problems & Pests; Helpful Backyard Tips; Make Your Backyard Safer and Healthier for Birds!
Softcover, 32 page booklet, published 2002.
The Backyard Bird Watcher’s Answer Guide answers 101 of the most-often-asked questions about birds. Bird Watcher’s Digest editor Bill Thompson, III has compiled material from the magazine’s 30 years of answering questions, offering tips and solving problems for backyard bird watchers.