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Learn the answers to some of the most common questions people ask about feeding birds in their yards.
Seasonal changes in the length of days, rather than an abundance of food, determine when birds will begin to migrate. Migrations begin in the fall as days shorten (when natural food is still abundant) and commence again in the spring as days lengthen.
Natural food supplies are typically exhausted during winter, as birds consume all the seeds and fruits at one location before moving on to the next. Similarly, if backyard feeders go empty while homeowners are on vacation, birds will look elsewhere for food. If your neighbors are also providing food, birds from your feeders will likely spend more time feeding there. Since feeders only supplement natural foods, most species won't suffer if feeders go empty for days or even weeks at a time.
It may be a matter of hours or weeks before birds discover new feeders. The variation depends on the distance to bird habitat, density of nearby feeders and the kinds of birds that might chance on the new feeder (chickadees, titmice and house sparrows are especially quick to locate new feeders). If there are many feeders in your neighborhood, birds may find new feeders more readily, as they already associate feeders with an easy meal. If birds are slow to find feeders, scatter sunflower seeds on top of the feeders and on nearby surfaces such as bare soil. Bird decoys may help to lure the first visitors, and other birds will soon notice the new food source.
Birds visit feeders most often in the early morning and again just before dusk. They use feeders less often in the afternoon and during rainy weather. In contrast, snow-covered ground forces sparrows and juncos to congregate at feeders as these species typically feed on bare ground.
Changing weather patterns, changes in natural food supplies and invasions of birds of prey or other predators could cause your birds to move to another area. Habitat changes can also account for some fluctuations in your bird population, like trees being cut down or new houses going up.
It's possible for a poorly maintained bird feeder to contribute to the spread of some diseases. Birds that frequent feeders are social creatures with a tendency to congregate, so it's up for debate whether or not eating at feeders would cause them to spread more disease than they would in the wild. To reduce the risk of spreading disease, keep your bird feeder clean, especially during the summer months when warmer temperatures can encourage the spread of diseases.
Place your bird feeder within 3 feet of a window to prevent birds from reaching high-flight velocity and crashing into your window. Also consider putting fruit-tree netting a few inches in front of your glass to deter collisions.
Because birds often drop seeds beneath the feeders they frequent, squirrels, rats and other rodents are attracted to the areas where your birds feed. You can try discontinuing feeding for a few weeks, which might discourage scavengers from congregating at your feeder. Also, consider investing in a new bird feeder that will catch dropped seeds, or construct a tray under your feeder to catch seeds and prevent rodents from finding them.
Your best bet is to contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. Never try to care for a wild bird yourself.
Determine if the baby bird is a nestling or a fledgling. If it doesn't have many feathers and is incapable of moving around on its own or gripping tightly to your finger, it's probably fallen from its nest. Find the nest and put it back as quickly as possible.
If the bird has feathers and is capable of hopping and can grip your finger or a twig with its toes, it's a fledgling. Its parent is nearby, and this bird should be left alone.
There is a minor risk of disease transmission when you have contact with bird droppings, especially for people with compromised immune systems. Wash an area that comes into contact with bird poop with hot, soapy water.
Chemicals that are harmful to insects could potentially be fatal to your bird population. Use natural, organic alternatives to pesticides, and your landscape will be healthier for you and the wildlife around you.