Backyard Birds

Neighborhoods are perfectly good homes for all kinds of birds. We find everything from the smallest hummingbird to large birds of prey, noisy starlings to gulls circling overhead.

All of these birds can find a comfortable niche in our neighborhoods and backyards. Along with the pleasures of these wild and beautiful creatures come the hazards of mingling wildlife into city settings. What do we do with birds that fly into the house, or with the family of ducks that is living in the swimming pool? What about birds that hit a window or are nesting in the attic? All are perplexing problems. How do we deal with these situations in a way that doesn’t harm these otherwise welcome visitors to our yards and neighborhoods?

A dive-bombing bird that seems to be attacking passersby is usually defending its territory when there is a nest in the area. It sees you and your pet as predators. These birds rarely make contact or cause injury. Give the bird as wide a berth as possible so that it doesn’t feel threatened by your presence. Use another entrance to your house if possible and keep your pets indoors. Wear a hat or carry an umbrella when approaching the nest. If you know where the nest is and no eggs have been laid, you can remove the nest; hopefully the birds will nest elsewhere. If there are eggs or babies in the nest, it should be left alone.

Most birds are protected by federal law and once the nest has eggs or young in it, it is against the law to disturb the nest. Luckily, most baby birds are only in the nest for three to four weeks. As soon as the babies have fledged out of the nest and the nest is empty, it is okay move the nest. If a bird habitually nests on the light fixture over the front door or some other inconvenient location such as entering an attic or chimney, it is often easy to prevent nesting by putting an obstacle in the bird’s way. A chicken wire barrier can make a favorite nest site seem quite inhospitable.

Woodpeckers are looking for food, making holes to store food, or making nest cavities when they are pecking on houses. Make sure there are no insects living in the siding that can provide an easy food source. If the bird is pecking a hole several inches wide it is most likely making a nest hole. Provide a nest box near the nest hole so the woodpecker doesn’t have to continue pecking on the house. Place sheet metal or heavy slippery plastic over the area being pecked. Hang a mylar balloon such as “Terror-eyes” made by Bird-X (800-662-5021) near the area.

Male mockingbirds sing at night while they are trying to establish their territory and attract a mate. Playing a recording of raptor calls, such as hawks or owls, will make the bird think there is a predator in the area and should get them to fly off.

Vegetable gardens and fruit trees are another favorite spot for our wild neighbors. Birds will often get rid of unwanted insect pests, but they also love brand new foliage and newly ripened fruit and vegetables. Short of enclosing our trees and gardens completely, there is no perfect solution to this problem.  Scarecrows, plastic owls, or plastic snakes sometimes work to scare the birds away. To increase their effectiveness, move these devices periodically so the birds don’t get used to them in one location. Large whirligigs shaped like flowers are available in garden shops. They work to distract the birds as long as the wind is blowing. Tin can lids or aluminum foil flags strung over a garden can create enough reflection and clatter to keep the birds out as well.

Pigeons can be excluded from areas by many means. Pigeons prefer to perch on flat surfaces, so wood or metal sheeting can be placed at 45-60 degree angles to prevent perching. A Slinky can also be stretched along a surface to prevent perching. Netting can be used to prevent perching on virtually any type of structure. Door curtains can be used to keep birds out of buildings.

During mating and nesting season, there are times when the light is just right for a bird to see its own reflection and think it’s a rival in its territory. This will last until the bird has secured its territory. Cover the window on the outside to take away the reflection by hanging ribbons or streamers, or covering the window with newspaper or some sort of shade. If they are seeing through the window to trees on the other side of the house, close the curtains. Do not use reflective film on windows. Fill a spray bottle or plant mister with soapy or salty water, and spray the outside of the window. The water will leave a film as it dries that will no longer reflect. You can still see out (although it does look like you need to wash your window) and light still comes through. These solutions are quick, cheap, and harmless. Usually the inconvenience is short-lived and as the seasons change, the window becomes less of a hazard for backyard birds. If a bird has flown into a window and the injury is not serious, the bird may recover from the shock of such an accident in a matter of minutes.  Gently place the bird in a small cardboard box or paper bag and leave it alone in a quiet place for about 15 to 30 minutes.  If the bird is completely recovered release it back outside. If the bird hasn’t fully recovered, bring it to the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA Wildlife Care Center.

When birds fly inside, close all doors, windows, and curtains, except for the one you want the bird to exit by. Place some seed outside of the door or window you want the bird to use to entice it out. If the bird lands on the floor, toss a pillowcase over it and gently pick it up and release it outside.

Lawns: Plastic flags can be effective in keeping birds off fields and open lawns. Flags are constructed from a 2×3 foot wide sheet of 3-mm plastic that is attached to a 4 foot post. Flags are placed one to five per acre. A V shaped notch is cut into the free end to enhance movement. Vegetation management can also be used to keep birds away from lawns. Replace the grass with other varieties of grass (the geese’s favorite is Kentucky bluegrass) or with ground covers (pachysandra, periwinkle, English ivy) so the geese have less to eat.

Ponds: Radio-controlled model boats, beach balls, or eyespot balloons can be floated on ponds to chase off birds. You can plant trees and hedges near the pond to act as a natural fence. Geese dislike and will avoid walking through tall (18 inches and up) vegetation.

Swimming pool: Use a cover. If the pool cannot be covered, float an inflatable swan (a natural enemy of ducks) or a beach ball in the pool. String reflective mylar strips above the pool so the ducks won’t be able to land. Provide a ramp for them to leave the water if ducklings get stuck in pool. Keeping the mother and babies together, encourage them to leave by shooing them out. Leave a gate open. Do not attempt to pick up the ducklings for relocation – mom will fly away, often abandoning her young. Do not put food out for them – that will make them stay.