Frequently Asked Questions about Birds and Birding
Injured or Abandoned Birds
How do I attract more birds and butterflies to my yard?
You can stop by a local bird store and ask the staff for ideas and suggestions. You can also keep an eye out for special presentations by local nature centers and clubs or read all about how you can landscape for wildlife by using native plants at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/wildscapes/.
Why are there no birds in the backyard or at my feeders?
There are lots of answers for this question and they all involve more questions. Is there cover for the birds to hide in? What season is it? Is there a predator (cat or raptor) in the area? Is there a lot of natural food available to the birds? Has the really cold weather arrived up North to push the birds down to Texas? Is it the end of the breeding season when young birds disperse into their own territories or head to wintering grounds?
Are all birds protected by law even if they are not endangered?
In a word, "Yes." All native birds in the U.S. are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (among others). Some birds such as Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles receive additional protection, and some birds fall under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. There are also state specific laws that apply to some species. Game birds have their own state-specific rules and regulations. Only non-native birds such as Starlings, Pigeons, and House Sparrows receive zero protection.
Discouraging Unwanted Bird Behavior
How do I stop a woodpecker from chiseling holes in my house?
First you must determine why the woodpecker is attracted to your house. Woodpeckers have three reasons for pecking objects. 1) Drumming - woodpeckers find an object that is hollow and/or makes a very loud noise. They then rapidly peck at the object to attract a mate or maintain territory claims. 2) Feeding - if the woodpecker is randomly drilling many shallow holes, then you may have a bigger problem because it is looking for insects that have taken up residence under your siding or in your walls. 3) Nesting - woodpeckers are cavity nesters which means that they nest in holes they find or drill their own into dead wood. If the woodpecker is trying to drill a deep hole in your house then put up an appropriately sized woodpecker nest box close to where they are drilling. More info can be found here:
How do I discourage Barn Swallows from nesting over my front door?
If they are already there, it is illegal to harass them or destroy the nest. Enjoy the show and try using another door for a couple of weeks. Remove all horizontal ledges the following winter, but remember that these birds are helpful with pest control as they can eat 60 insects per hour (850 per day)! This means that just one Barn Swallow can rid your yard of 25,000 insects per month. If after reading this you decide you want to keep them around after all, you can build them a nest shelf in a place that will not be disturbed too much.
How do I stop a Cardinal from pecking on my windows?
The bird sees its own reflection in the glass and reacts unfavorably toward the presumed intruder. Basically all you have to do is reduce the window’s reflectiveness. Get creative!
Some good suggestions can be found in the following articles:
How do I keep birds from flying into my windows?
Birds fly into windows because of their reflectiveness and invisibility. Windows reflect everything around them - the sky, clouds, vegetation, etc. - so birds think that those reflections are just more of their natural habitat. More detailed information on how birds perceive windows can be found in this article from Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology: Why Birds Hit Windows.
Many birds that hit windows end up with a broken neck (instant death) or brain hemorrhages (slow death). A small handful that may otherwise survive the impact are initially in shock and become easy prey for another animal such as a free-roaming domestic cat or other animal (slow painful death). Big, shiny, highly reflective windows in skyscrapers end up killing many birds, but so do smaller windows in residential houses. Humans love windows, so we have many of them, and they kill up to a billion birds per year in the U.S. alone.
Making our windows less reflective and less inviting is one little thing that we can all do to help the birds.
The American Bird Conservancy has a list of products you can purchase to reduce bird window collisions: Stop birds hitting windows.
The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) also has great advice to make buildings more bird safe: BirdSafe - Protect Birds at Home
Birds and Domestic Cats
How do outdoor, free roaming cats affect bird populations?
Consult the following websites for thorough, scientifically referenced information about the negative impact of outdoor cats on both human health and wildlife populations.
Getting into Birding
How do I get started?
First, get a good field guide for your region, country, or continent. This will help you to identify the birds you see. Second, start looking at birds! Any birds will do, even ones in your backyard or along a road or in your local park. Third, get a pair of binoculars - these are an essential birding tool. Fourth, grab your binoculars and go on a field trip with your local bird club (like San Antonio Audubon Society!). Ask lots of questions of the field trip leader(s) and take along a small notepad and pencil to write down the names of all the birds you see.
What kind of binoculars should I get?
You should get the best ones you can afford. With binoculars you get what you pay for, and eye strain or binoculars that are difficult to use can put a real damper on your birding experience. Here are some great websites with lots of information:
Which field guide should I buy?
One with color illustrations, not photos, is recommended. The best field guide artists capture what an average individual of the species should look like. Whereas, a guide with photos only shows what a single individual of the species looks like. Just like people, individual birds of the same species can look slightly different. You also want a field guide that has plenty of descriptions and id pointers, thorough range maps, and depictions of male, female, and immature birds. Here in central Texas we get both eastern and western birds so a guide that covers both regions of North America is best. There are also several smart phone apps available for both iPhone and Android devices, although a physical book is still the best way to learn. Everyone has their own preferences as to which field guide works for them, and many avid birders have a whole bookshelf full of them! Some of the best comprehensive guides are listed below:
The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition (1st edition is also excellent) by David Allen Sibley (illustrations)
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer (illustrations)
Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson (illustrations)
Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman (photos)
The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Donald and Lillian Stokes (photos)
When is the best time to go birding?
Go any time, any season. The most active times for birds is when they are feeding - just after sunrise and in the late afternoons. Start at home, but remember that birds are just about everywhere. Pretty soon you won’t be able to go outside without accidentally birding!
Where can I get basic information on birds and birding?
Do the following: attend a San Antonio Audubon Society meeting [link to meeting schedule], buy a field guide, get your hands on some binoculars, and go on a field trip [link to field trips]. There is also a wealth of information on the internet about birding. Here are some places to start:
Bird ID Skills - from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Identifying Birds - from the National Audubon Society
Project FeederWatch: Identifying Birds - from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Birding for Beginners - from BirdWatching Magazine
The San Antonio Audubon Society does not intend any endorsements in the above information.