For the Birds Radio Program: Feeder Hazards

Original Air Date: Aug. 1, 1986

Laura talks about the worst hazards for our backyard birds: window collisions, cats, and diseases.

Audio missing


Feeder Hazards

(Recording of Evening Grosbeaks)

Now that Box Elder seeds are ripe in Duluth, the Evening Grosbeaks are back in huge numbers. And Purple Finches are visiting feeders in pairs and family groups, as they usually do in July.

(Recording of Purple Finches)

These two species are favorites of many feeder watchers, so you’d think that mid- and late summer would be a perfect time for feeder watchers. But this is also the time when birds are killed in the biggest numbers. When you consider that a pair of songbirds raises four or five young every summer, and yet the total number of birds remains pretty much the same from one year to the next, there’s an awful lot of birds dying every year. It’s one thing to objectively recognize nature’s way of keeping population levels constant—it’s quite another to watch from your breakfast table as a baby grosbeak crashes into the window and thrashes about in its death throes. This time of year, inexperienced young birds fly into windows by the dozens, and cats pick off quite a few in some neighborhoods.

What should you do if a bird flies into your window? They often have concussions, but, surprisingly, quite a few of them recover. If a bird lands on its back, it usually has a hard time righting itself—being upside down has a quieting, almost hypnotic, effect on birds, and they sometimes won’t even try to right themselves. Make sure you set the bird on its feet, preferably where it is protected from cats and migrating hawks. It is technically illegal to pick up an injured bird, but if you feel the bird will have a better chance of surviving if you take it into the house, say on a rainy day, you can get a temporary permit to care for it by calling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s office in Duluth. Never force feed a bird, and never ever place drops of water in its mouth—it’s likely to aspirate. Anyway, if it’s too injured to eat or drink on its own, it’s too injured to digest anything.

Birds have very rapid metabolisms, so they can repair injuries pretty quickly. And if a bird’s injuries are too severe for it to recover, its suffering is usually mercifully brief.

To discourage birds from hitting your window, you can hang strips of cloth or aluminum foil from the top to wave in the wind, or you can cut out silhouettes of falcons or sharp-shinned hawks and tape them on the window pane. Of course, the birds eating at your feeder obviously haven’t fallen for that old trick or they wouldn’t be in your yard at all, but sticking objects on your window may make the glass easier to notice. Keeping your curtains closed sometimes helps, especially when two windows across from each other make it look like there’s a clear path through your house. Of course, if you keep your curtains closed, you won’t get to enjoy seeing any of the birds at your feeder.

Besides windows and cats, one other hazard at feeders is disease. Where dozens of birds are gathered, bird diseases can spread like wildfire. In a wet year like this, make sure you don’t pour new seed on top of a mass of old, wet seeds—clean out the feeder whenever it needs it. And scrub your bird bath often. If you’re going to run a bird restaurant, you certainly don’t want to kill off your best customers.

(Recording of Evening Grosbeaks)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”