Frequently Asked Questions


The following are questions frequently asked on the Rockland Audubon Society Hotline, (845) 639-9216

Feeder problems are the most frequently asked questions. More complete answers to some frequent questions can be found at the Wild Birds Forever web site.  Here are some answers to the most common:

   Q.  How can I get rid of the #$^%$@*&! squirrels!

A.  There are several approaches, but none are guaranteed. (1) Supply an alternate food source, like cracked corn. (2) Purchase a baffle or squirrel "proof" feeder. (3) Hang your feeder at least 8 feet from the nearest access. (4) Try switching to safflower seeds. (5) Add hot pepper to seeds. (To be honest, we've tried all of these methods without much success. Perhaps it is best to just learn to enjoy the squirrels!)

   Q.  There are no birds at my feeder!

A.  (1) Check for nearby predators, such as hawks or cats. (2) Make sure the feeder is clean. (3) Make sure there is a nearby water source. (4) Avoid insecticides and fertilizers nearby. (5) Be sure the seed is not spoiled or tainted. (6) Be patient!

   Q.  How can I make my own suet?

A.  Making suet is easy. Here is the best recipe we've found (reprinted from Wild Bird):

Martha Sargent's No-Melt, All-Season Peanut Butter Suet Recipe

1 cup crunchy peanut butter

2 cups "quick cook" oats

2 cups cornmeal

1 cup lard (no substitutions)

1 cup white flour

1/3 cup sugar

Melt the lard and peanut butter, then stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour the mixture into square freezer containers about 1 1/2 inches thick. Allow it to cool, then cut it into squares and store them in the freezer.

   Q.  I don't get hummingbirds at my feeder. What am I doing wrong?

Ruby-throated hummingbirds appear in Rockland County from about the beginning of May until about the middle of September. To attract them to your feeder, make sure the feeder is clean and the nectar is fresh. Clean and re-fill the feeder every three to four days. Use a recipe of 1 part granulated sugar to 4 parts water. Boil the mixture for 3 minutes, cool, and then refrigerate in a covered container. Do not add red food coloring to the nectar, most purchased feeders contain enough red to attract the birds. Fill the feeder with just enough nectar to last 3 to 4 days. It also helps to have plants attractive to "hummers" in your yard. Attractive shrubs and vines include: hibiscus, butterfly bush, azaleas, trumpet creeper, and honeysuckle. Flowers especially attractive to hummingbirds include: hollyhocks, columbine, fuchsia, flowering tobacco, coral bells, Canterbury bells, impatiens, foxglove, salvia, phlox, cardinal flower, and bee balm.

   Q.  How do I get rid of undesirable birds such as starlings, grackles, blackbirds, doves and finches?

A.  This problem can usually be solved with the type of feeder or food. (1) Try using small tube feeders with small perches. (2) To discourage house finches, remove the perches. (3) To discourage blackbirds and sparrows, do not offer cracked corn. (4) To discourage doves and sparrows, stop feeding bird mixes. (5) To discourage starlings at a suet feeder, try a bottom feed suet feeder. Starlings do not like to hang upside down.

   Q.  Birds keep flying into my windows!

A.  (1) Place a hawk silhouette on the window. (2) Hang foil strips or ribbons from the eaves. (3) Spray artificial snow on the window. (4) Attach sheer nylon netting over the window. (5) Shut the blinds or tape paper on inside of windows. (6) Place feeders 1-2 feet from glass. This prevents them from gaining enough momentum to injure themselves. (7) Move the feeder to another location.

   Q. What do I do with an abandoned baby bird?

A.  If the bird is feathered and uninjured, it is best to leave it alone. The parents are nearby and will take care of it. If the bird is not feathered, cold, injured, in danger, or is known to to be orphaned, then keep it in a warm, dark, dry, quiet place. Don't try to feed it, instead contact one of the following for help:

Rockland Audubon Society is not licensed to handle wild birds or mammals, we can however, provide contact numbers for qualified rehabilitators. 

   Q.  What do I do with a stunned or injured bird?

A.  If a bird is stunned under your window, leave it alone unless there is a threat of predators. If the temperature is cold, place it in a cardboard box or paper bag until revived. Release the bird in dense foliage. If you find a seriously injured bird, keep it in a warm, dark, dry, quiet place. Contact one of the above listed organizations for help.

   Q.  Woodpeckers are drilling holes into our house!

A.  There are several reasons why woodpeckers may be pecking at your house, the correct course of action depends on the reason for the pecking. (1) A loud, rapid drumming is a territorial signal, either to attract mates or warn rival males. This type of behavior usually subsides after breeding season. (2) A light, irregular pecking usually indicates they are searching for food or excavating a nest hole.

Once the cause is determined, here are some suggested actions: (1) Territorial drumming is typically done against hard, resonant surfaces. They usually don't return to the same spot and is unlikely to do serious damage to your house. It may, however, be very annoying! To discourage drumming, deaden the resonant area with fabric, foam, etc. (2) Provide an alternate drumming site. (3) If they are searching for food, control the insects. Consult with a licensed pest control operator. (4) If they are excavating a nest cavity, make sure it is not an active nest. If not, plug small holes with caulking or wood filler, larger ones with wooden plugs, steel wool or wire screen before sealing. (5) Woodpeckers prefer cedar and redwood siding, but will also damage pine, fir, cypress and others. Painted surfaces are less preferred. (6) At first sign of activity, try to scare them away with hanging strips, hanging balloons, owl decoys, pinwheel, wind chimes, etc. Be careful not to disturb birds with an active nest. (7) Create physical barriers with nylon bird netting (3/4"), hardware cloth, sheet metal, etc. Netting should be placed at least 3" from damaged area. (8) Remove nearby bird feeders. (9) Remove dead trees from your yard.

   Q.  I saw a "small, medium, large" (pick one) "brown, gray, black, blue, yellow" (pick one) bird in my yard, what is it?

When trying to identify a unknown bird, it is particularly important to pay attention to a number of key points.  How big is the bird? This may be difficult to judge, but try to relate the size to a familiar species. Is it the size of a chickadee, a robin, a crow, an eagle? Where was the bird and what was it doing?  Was it near your backyard feeder climbing down a tree trunk or wading in a small pond near the seashore?  Pay attention to not only the general coloration, but the coloration of the head, breast, back, rump, wings, tail, bill, and feet.  Where there stripes on the head, above the eye, or on the wings? What is the bill like? Is it short and thick, long and thin, hooked at the tip?

Next consult a field guide.  For our area, the Peterson (Eastern Region), National Geographic, and Sibley guides have excellent drawings while the Audubon, Kaufman and the Stokes Eastern Regional guides use photographs.

There are also several CM-ROM identification aids, e.g., Thayer, Peterson, and Audubon, as well as web sites that provide help with identification. For example, see ID Bird.