General Bird FAQs

General Bird FAQs

General Bird FAQs

Learn the answers to some of Tri-State’s frequently asked questions below. If you have another question about injured or orphaned wild birds, call us at (302) 737-9543 any day between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

For more information on bird watching, visit American Birding AssociationDelaware Ornithological Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology or your local nature center.

Frequently asked questions

Help Birds Stay Warm

  • Build a brush pile.
  • Hang a roost box.
  • Make a wind break.
  • Leave dead trees standing (if safe) so that hollows can be used for warm, safe roosting.

Provide Open Water

  • If your yard lacks open water in winter, a birdbath safely wired with a heating unit and thermostat can provide welcome refuge.
  • Place rocks in the water as perches to allow drinking and preening while discouraging all-out soaking.

Pump Up the Menu

  • Offer high-fat seeds and nuts, such as black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts, as well as suet.
  • Place Feeders in Protected Locations
  • Place feeders out of the reach of predators, including cats.
  • Locate feeders away from prevailing winds.
  • Use decals, window film, or other means to break up reflections of sky, snow, and trees in windows and doors.
  • Clean your feeders at least once a month.

Choose Native Plants

  • Native plants provide cover from predators, shelter from the elements, and a food source. Overwintering insects and insect larvae on native plants and in leaf litter offer a food bonanza.
  • Choose endemic trees, flowers, grasses, and shrubs for their edible fruits, berries, and seeds.
  • Avoid deadheading flowers.
  • Leave seed-laden grass heads unmown and fruits and berries unpicked.

For more ways to support the birds during the harsh winter weather, check the following resources:

How to Build a Brush Pile, Maryland Cooperative Extension

Providing Water for Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Winter Bird Feeding, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Bird-Wind Collision Reduction, Fatal Light Awareness Program 

Unfortunately, there is nothing Tri-State can do with an unhatched egg.

If you’ve found a single egg on the ground in the middle of the yard, it is likely the egg isn’t viable. Most songbirds lay four or more eggs, and sometimes one isn’t fertile and won’t hatch. If all the other eggs hatch and there’s one left in the nest, the parents will often remove the “bad” egg from the nest. If you’ve found a nest with eggs in it that has fallen out of a tree after a storm, you can try replacing the nest in the tree near the original location of the nest. However, if the eggs have become cold, they may no longer be viable.

If you’ve found a group of eggs on the ground, please leave them as you found them. Some birds, like killdeer, lay their eggs on the ground in a slight depression that may not look like a typical nest at all. Ducks and geese also nest on the ground, and they lay one egg a day until the clutch is complete. Only then do they begin to sit on the eggs to incubate them. So a group of eggs on the ground isn’t necessarily an abandoned nest!

Native songbirds and their feathers, nests, and eggs are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Among other provisions in the MBTA, it is illegal to possess the nests or eggs of native birds without a permit. The MBTA helps to protect our native wildlife;  >> additional information can be found here.

Birds that commonly nest around houses include house finches, eastern phoebes, barn swallows, American robins, mourning doves, and Carolina wrens. These species spend about two weeks incubating their eggs and then 12–18 days raising their young in the nest.
We recommend that you sit back and enjoy the show! Not only it is kinder to leave the family undisturbed, native songbirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits, among other things, moving nests or eggs.
If the nest is on a light fixture, we recommend that you do not turn the light on while the bird is nesting as this could pose a risk of fire. Once the baby birds have fledged, the nest can be removed.
If the nest is in a flower pot or hanging basket, water the plant carefully around the edge while the nest is active. This will keep the plant healthy without harming the eggs or the nestling birds. Watering the plant once every few days will not cause the adults to abandon the nest.
Many people ask, “Isn’t there somewhere better for these birds to nest?” The answer to that question is simple. The birds would gladly nest somewhere better if they could. But, with increasing development and loss of natural habitat, our native wildlife is under greater pressure than ever to find a “good” place to live and raise their young.
Rest assured that these guests won’t be on your porch for long. A small amount of inconvenience to you can make a world of difference to this feathered family.

It is estimated that domestic cats kill millions of native songbirds every year in the United States. At Tri-State, we see firsthand the damage a cat can do to a wild bird.

Clearly, it would be a benefit to all our native wildlife (not just birds) if domestic cats were kept indoors because even well-fed cats will hunt wildlife.

Is there also a benefit to the cats to being kept indoors? Yes!

In the outdoors, cats can be hit by cars or be attacked by dogs, other cats, or wildlife. They may contract fatal diseases such as rabies or feline distemper. They may also become lost or be stolen or poisoned. During severe weather conditions, they may not be able to find shelter.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that the average lifespan of a free-roaming cat is about three years, compared to 12–18 years for the average indoor-only cat.

In addition, domestic cats are not native predators to our wildlife. Native feline predators in North America include cougars, bobcats, and lynx. These native predators have territories that are measured in square miles, not acres, and so are not as numerous in the wild as domestic cats are in a suburban setting.

Many of us at Tri-State are devoted cat owners, and we keep our cats inside, for their safety and that of our native wildlife.

For great information on how to keep your indoor cat happy and healthy, please visit: or

Additional information can also be found here:

Imprinting is a natural part of a wild bird’s developmental process that establishes strong bonds between a young bird and its parents, siblings, nest site, and habitat. These mental connections help a young bird to identify itself as part of its species.

If a young bird is raised inappropriately in captivity, it will imprint on humans and will not recognize itself as its proper species—it will have an “identity crisis.” Birds that have imprinted on humans will look to them as providers of food and also as mates. Human-imprinted birds usually will not breed with nor raise young of their own species, so they cannot be used in breeding programs or as foster parents.

In wildlife rehabilitation, young birds of prey, crows, jays, and newly-hatched waterfowl are the species of greatest concern for imprinting on humans. Ducklings and goslings imprint during their first day of life, whereas birds of prey imprint between 2 to 5 weeks of age, depending on species.

Imprinting is almost always an irreversible process. If a bird has imprinted on humans, it cannot be released, and it often cannot be used for educational purposes because of potential behavioral issues. These birds are usually perfectly healthy, but, sadly, they will never be able to fly free.

Improperly imprinted birds can be prevented by bringing injured or orphaned young birds immediately to a licensed rehabilitation center like Tri-State Bird Rescue, where experienced caregivers will raise the birds using techniques that prevent human imprinting.

Woodpeckers peck at wood to establish territories, attract mates, find food, or make a nest cavity.

Woodpeckers aren’t songbirds, so instead of singing, they “drum” on resonant dead trees to establish their breeding territories and attract a mate—the louder the drumming, the better. Houses with wood siding can be attractive to woodpeckers looking to make a lot of noise, and metal downspouts are even better. Fortunately, this behavior occurs predominately in the spring and generally lasts only until the woodpecker has found a mate and started a family.

If the pecking continues, the woodpecker may be looking for wood boring beetles, carpenter ants, and other insects. If a woodpecker is spending a lot of time pecking at your wood siding, it could indicate an insect problem. You may want to contact a pest control company to determine whether you have insects in your siding.

It is unusual for a woodpecker to attempt to excavate a nesting cavity in the side of a house. However, if this is their intent, they could drill through the exterior wall and may even drill all the way into the house.

To get them to stop pecking on your house, you can try giving them a good scare or creating a physical barrier between them and the house. Scare tactics can include making noises, hanging wind chimes or strips of Mylar, or setting up pulsating water sprinklers. Hawk or owl silhouettes may also work. Whichever method you choose, you need to start employing it as soon as you notice the woodpecker, and you need to be persistent in your efforts because woodpeckers are not easily driven from their territories once they are established.

To create a physical barrier between the woodpecker and the house, you can temporarily attach hardware cloth (1/4” mesh) or sheet metal over the areas where the bird is pecking. We do not recommend using nylon “bird netting” as the birds can easily become entangled in it and suffer serious injuries as a result.

Woodpeckers and other native wild birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Among other things, it is illegal to hunt, trap, or poison protected birds. More information about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act can be found here:

If the bird in your chimney is a chimney swift, please see the separate FAQ sheet on chimney swifts. A number of other species will investigate or nest in chimneys, attics, or dryer vents. These birds are cavity nesters and do not build a stick-type nest. Species commonly encountered include European starlings, English sparrows, barred owls, screech owls, and wood ducks.

If an adult bird is trapped in your chimney, contact an animal control agency to see if they can help remove the bird. Once the bird is removed, if it appears injured, bring it to Tri-State for treatment. If the bird has been trapped for more than a day, it will be dehydrated and will need medical treatment and evaluation. After the bird has been removed, install a cap on your chimney to prevent a recurrence.

If a bird is investigating your dryer vent or has started building a nest in it, remove the nesting material and place an approved dryer vent cap on the vent. These caps, available from hardware or home improvement stores, generally incorporate screening over the vent as well as a mechanism to keep the vent closed when the dryer is not in operation.

If there are baby birds in the dryer vent, your best option is to line-dry clothes or take them to a Laundromat until the birds fledge in approximately 21 days. Once the birds leave the nest, remove all nesting material and cap the vent. Similarly, if a bird is nesting in your attic or soffit, we recommend that you wait until the baby birds have fledged and then repair the hole where they are gaining access.

Most backyard birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act:

Populations of chimney swifts are in decline due to the lack of suitable nesting sites. You can help swifts by properly maintaining your fireplace chimney.

Nesting swifts will not damage your chimney.

Any chimney with a metal lining should be capped. A swift entering a metal chimney will fall to the bottom and not be able to climb back up the slippery walls. Only chimneys made of brick, stone, or masonry tiles with mortar joints are textured enough for swifts to cling to their walls.

Have your chimney cleaned when fireplace season is over and before the swifts begin nesting in late April (in the mid-Atlantic area). Burning wood in fireplaces produces creosote, a combustible material that prevents proper adhesion of nests to the chimney walls. A poorly secured nest may dislodge and fall as nestlings become more active.

Keep the fireplace damper closed during spring and summer to prevent adults from flying into the house and nestlings from falling into the fireplace. A baby whose fall has been stopped by a closed damper will continue to be fed by its parents and will eventually climb back up the chimney. For fireplaces without dampers, a large piece of foam rubber can be wedged into the chimney to serve the same purpose. Be sure to remove the foam before using the fireplace again in the fall.

Be patient with your wild visitors. Fledglings leave the nest approximately one month after hatching. They will typically chatter when an adult enters the chimney with food during the last two weeks before they fledge. Keeping the damper closed will help to muffle the sound if you find it disruptive (some people like it!).

If an adult bird should get into your house, is flying around, and appears uninjured, open one door or window and cover all others as well as any mirrors. The bird will fly toward the light and will find itself back outside.

Older nestlings that fall into the fireplace may be reunited with their parents if they are uninjured. If you find a bird in your fireplace, call Tri-State at 302.737.9543 for instructions.

Chimney swifts are protected under the provisions of the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and may be cared for only by licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Trapping or killing of birds or tampering with eggs or nests is prohibited.


Here are some suggestions to make your glass doors and windows safer for birds:

  • Locate feeders and birdbaths a safe distance away from glass doors and windows. If you want your feeders close to windows, move them within 3 feet of the window or put up a window feeder. That way, if birds hit the window when “fleeing” from the feeder, they will not be going fast enough to harm themselves.
  • Where practical, use window screens.
  • Place decals such as “warning webs,” cutouts of raptor silhouettes, or other cut-outs on the exterior of glass doors and windows. Use multiple items for larger expanses of glass.
  • Plant shade trees outside windows to reduce reflections, and/or hang garden flags, colored sun catchers, chimes, or other decorations directly in front of windows.
  • Put vertical reflective exterior tape strips 4–6 inches apart on windows.
  • Use interior vertical blinds and open the slats halfway.
  • Be sure to check the method you have chosen to ensure it is effective. Is it apparent that the glass is an obstacle and not a clear passageway? Are reflections broken up by solid objects? Note that when using silhouettes or cut-outs, black will be effective in some cases, while white will work in others, depending on the type of glass, the angle of light, and what is reflected. If what you put up blends with the clear glass, or with reflections, try using the opposite color or both black and white, or try other options listed above. Finally, observe bird behavior to verify that birds are seeing the obstruction and are avoiding the glass.

If a bird hits your window and does not move or fly away within a few minutes, it may be dazed or injured. To protect it from predators, place the bird in a ventilated box with a lid and put it in a warm, quiet place away from humans and pets. After 30 minutes, provide the bird a safe release, or, if it remains dazed or appears injured, call Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research (302) 737-9543 or a licensed rehabilitator in your area for assistance.

Source: Adapted from the window strikes help page of the Wild Birds Unlimited website, or visit

In the spring, male songbirds begin to set up and defend their nesting territories. They advertise the boundaries of their territory with song, and they will defend it against all intruders.

Sometimes, when a bird sees its reflection in a window or car mirror, it will flutter up against the window or mirror in an attempt to drive the “intruder” from his territory.

Northern Cardinals and American robins are the species that seem to be most prone to this behavior.

So what do you do if you have a bird flapping at your window?

The best way to deter these vigilant territory defenders is to eliminate the reflection by temporarily covering the window on the outside with cloth, cardboard, or fine-mesh screen. Do not use netting as the birds can become fatally entangled in it.

You can also try placing objects in or on the window that break up the reflection, such as Mylar strips, decorative window films or decals, tape, etc.

Birds rarely suffer serious injury from this behavior and generally stop once the female has started nesting or once the young hatch and they become busy helping to feed their brood.

Many house finches, American goldfinches, and some other species in the Mid-Atlantic States have become infected with a treatable organism that causes swollen, crusty eyes (conjunctivitis). Affected birds sometimes sit quietly on the ground because they cannot see well enough to fly. Other songbird species are susceptible to this infection but are less commonly affected. There is no known risk to humans who handle the birds. The disease is frequently spread through contact at bird feeders. To minimize the spread of disease, we recommend the following:

  • Bird feeders should be cleaned once a week and then disinfected with a solution of one part household bleach to ten parts water. Rinse thoroughly after disinfecting and allow the feeder to air dry before replacing and refilling with seed.
  • Provide a feeder that is large enough for the number of birds that come to it or provide multiple feeders. Overcrowding at the feeder can increase the spread of disease.
  • Avoid using feeders with rough surfaces, cracks, or crevices that are difficult to clean and sanitize. Tube-style feeders should also be avoided because secretions from the birds’ nares (nostrils) or eyes could be deposited on the tube when feeding. The next bird that feeds and touches the feeder could become infected through this contact.
  • Clean under the feeder or change the location of the feeder at regular intervals to reduce the buildup of disease-harboring debris under the feeder.
  • Birdbaths should be cleaned and refilled with fresh water daily.

Use of medicated seed or water is not recommended.

Any affected birds should be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. To catch a sick bird, drop a small towel over it and gently pick it up and put it in a box or paper bag. Be sure the bag or box has small ventilation holes in it. Do not hold the bird longer than necessary; it is extremely stressful for the bird. If the infection is not treated, the disease will progress to the point where the bird can no longer see at all.

The treatment protocols used at Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research have been shown to clear the birds of the infective agent, so that when they have recovered and are released back into the wild they do not pose a risk as a source of infection for other birds.

Many of us enjoy watching songbirds at our birdfeeders and are dismayed when a hawk discovers the feeder and the birds that flock to it.
To help keep the songbirds safe, don’t place your feeders out in the open. Even a few bushes or clumps of tall grasses near the feeding station can give songbirds needed cover when a hawk swoops in.

There isn’t much you can do to actively drive hawks away from your bird feeders, but you can make it harder for them to catch their next meal.
If a hawk is persistent in staking out your birdfeeders, you can try taking the feeders down for several days. The hawk will move on, but the songbirds will come back when you put the feeders out again.

Finally, as hard as it may be to see nature at work, we need to remember that all native wild birds, including hawks, are under pressure from habitat loss and are struggling to survive in an increasingly urbanized world.

Birds of prey are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act:

Native wild birds love native wild plants! They especially love plants that produce fruits, nuts, seeds, or nectar, as well as plants that provide cover for nesting in the summer or shelter from harsh weather in the winter. Native plants also support the abundance of insects that birds need to feed their growing young.

The key to a great backyard bird habitat is to include plants that produce “bird food” at different times of the year. This will keep birds coming to your yard in all seasons.

Some great natives for yards in the Delaware area include the following:

  • Trees
    • Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida
    • American holly, Ilex opaca
    • White oak, Quercus alba
    • American beech, Fagus grandiflora
    • Atlantic white cedar, Chamaecyparis thyoides
    • White pine, Pinus strobus
  • Shrubs
    • Elderberry, Sambucus Canadensis
    • Blackhaw viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium
    • Downy serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea
    • Northern bayberry, Myrica pennsylvanica
    • Highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum
    • Winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata
  • Flowers
    • Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
    • Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
    • Bee balm, Monarda fistulosa
    • False indigo, Amorpha fruticosa
    • Wild columbine, Aquilegia Canadensis
    • Lanceleaf coreopsis, Coreopsis lanceolata

Don’t forget a water feature! Whether it’s a plain bird bath or a fancy setup with moving water, the birds will love it! Be sure to change the water daily and clean the bath weekly.

You can find a ton of information on native plants and birds on the Internet! For more extensive lists of plants and gardening inspiration, try these Web sites:

Keeping bird feeders clean is an important way to prevent the spread of avian diseases, such as conjunctivitis, also called finch eye. Bird feeders should be cleaned and disinfected twice a month; more often if you notice affected birds around your feeders.

We recommend the following steps for cleaning and disinfecting your bird feeders:

1. Shake or brush all dried or caked debris from your feeder.

2. Take the feeder apart—if you can reassemble it after washing! Be sure to put any screws in a safe place.

3. Dunk the feeder and its parts in a tub filled with dish soap and water. Scrub all matter from inside and outside of feeder. Extra-long brushes made for this purpose are usually available wherever bird feeders are sold, and they make the job a lot easier!

4. Rinse off the soapy water with a hose.

5. Immerse the feeder and its parts in a tub or bucket of bleach and water (see note below). Allow to soak for 3-4 minutes.

    • NOTE: Mix 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. If you are washing more than one feeder and some feeder “stuff” starts floating in the bleach/water mix, change the mix (that “stuff” will neutralize the bleach).

6. When the bleach soak is done, rinse again thoroughly with clear water, inside and out.

7. Let the feeder dry completely.

8. Re-assemble the feeder—it’s ready to fill with bird seed.twice

Every year, Tri-State receives birds suffering from lead poisoning. Species most commonly affected include bald eagles, vultures, loons, ducks, geese, and swans.

The birds are exposed to lead through direct ingestion of spent lead shot and slugs; lost fishing sinkers, tackle, and related fragments; or through consumption of wounded or dead prey containing lead shot, bullets, or slug fragments.

Lead acts primarily on the central nervous system. Birds affected by lead poisoning exhibit lethargy, progressive weakness, reluctance to fly or inability to sustain flight, and weight loss leading to emaciation. Lead can also damage the kidneys and interfere with the production of hemoglobin. If a sufficiently large number of metallic lead is ingested, death can be rapid (known as acute poisoning). If a small amount of lead is ingested, it may be stored in the bone, creating an on-going ‘internal source’ of lead, causing chronic ill health. Death may occur after several weeks or months.
Although lead was banned for use in waterfowl hunting in 1991, its use in ammunition for upland game bird and deer hunting, sports shooting, and in fishing tackle remains widespread.

Please consider using non-lead-based fishing tackle and non-lead ammunition for hunting or trap shooting. A significant source of lead poisoning in bald eagles is fragments of spent ammunition in entrails left behind from field-dressed deer. Burying these entrails so they are not accessible to eagles or vultures scavenging for food will greatly help to reduce lead poisoning in these species.

Suggested links:

No. A bird’s migratory instinct is triggered by day length. Although a well-stocked feeder cannot overcome that urge, it might provide a needed energy boost during migration.

Clean hummingbird feeders every time you refill them—every three to five days.

Rake the ground below feeders to prevent accumulation of seed waste.

Although birds may not depend on our feeders, we may very well depend on the birds to help us maintain our dwindling link to the natural world.

Humans have little to fear from birds congregating at well-maintained neighborhood feeders. In fact, birds may help with disease control by consuming plant seeds that otherwise would attract scavenging pests, as well as mosquitoes and other insects that carry disease.

No. Although birds may be regular visitors to feeders, they eat a variety of foods and search for food in many places.

Properly maintained bird feeders do not spread disease. Feeders should be cleaned and disinfected at least once a month.
We recommend the following steps for cleaning and disinfecting your bird feeders:
1. Shake or brush all dried or caked debris from your feeder.
2. Take the feeder apart—if you can reassemble it after washing! Be sure to put any screws in a safe place.
3. Dunk the feeder and its parts in a tub filled with dish soap and water. Scrub all matter from inside and outside of feeder. Extra-long brushes made for this purpose are usually available wherever bird feeders are sold, and they make the job a lot easier!
4. Rinse off the soapy water with a hose.
5. Immerse the feeder and its parts in a tub or bucket of bleach and water (see note below). Allow to soak for 3-4 minutes.
NOTE: Mix 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. If you are washing more than one feeder and some feeder “stuff” starts floating in the bleach/water mix, change the mix (that “stuff” will neutralize the bleach).
6. When the bleach soak is done, rinse again thoroughly with clear water, inside and out.
7. Let the feeder dry completely.
8. Re-assemble the feeder—it’s ready to fill with bird seed.

West Nile Virus (WNV) is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause sickness in people and many kinds of animals, especially horses. Some species of wild birds, particularly owls, hawks, and crows, can get very sick and die from this disease.

Can birds transmit West Nile Virus to humans?
Birds can carry this virus, but they do not transmit the disease to humans. With rare exceptions, people and birds can only become infected when they are bitten by mosquitoes carrying the virus.

What are the symptoms of WNV in birds?
Birds that have become infected with WNV may appear weak, be unable to fly, or have trouble balancing or standing. If you see a bird exhibiting these signs, catch it by throwing a sheet or towel over it and placing it in a cardboard box and then bring it to Tri-State for treatment. While there is no confirmed evidence that WNV can be transmitted directly to humans from birds, you should wear gloves while handling sick birds and wash your hands afterward.

Do I risk exposure by handling a dead bird?
There is no confirmed evidence that West Nile Virus is spread directly from dead birds to humans. However, it is prudent to avoid bare-handed contact with any dead animal. Use a shovel or wear gloves.

Backyard songbirds are not reservoirs for avian influenza or the bacteria that cause botulism. While both diseases can affect many bird species, they are rarely seen in birds that come to backyard feeders.

No, birds cannot transmit the rabies virus. Only mammals can be infected with rabies. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, wild birds are not the culprits in human outbreaks of salmonella poisoning. Although pet birds are sometimes implicated, the most common way people contract salmonella poisoning is by consuming raw or undercooked eggs, poultry or meat.

Keep your pets under control, and keep cats indoors.

Hang hawk silhouettes, decals, or other ornaments in windows to reduce the chance of impact injuries.

Look before you lop! Check for nests before your trim bushes or cut down trees. Better yet, do your pruning in the winter—it’s better for the plants!
Keep your bird feeders clean.

Drive carefully and watch the roadsides for wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk.

Cap your metal-lined chimney and install an approved clothes-dryer vent cover.

Use natural or organic alternatives to chemical pest control or lawn care. Many birds die every year from exposure to these chemicals.

Pick up litter, especially fishing line and plastic six-pack rings.

Dispose of hazardous household products properly.

Educate children to respect wild birds and not capture them.

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