FAQ from 2001

I’d forgotten about doing this until I was looking at the old pages. We all enjoyed PFW-L, and eventually set up our own separate email lists where we could talk about non-FeederWatch topics without irritating our host moderators at Cornell. I’m still on few noncommercial email lists, but that’s showing my age, isn’t it?

As with the other resurrected pages, I’ve removed the links because most would be broken at this point, and I’m not energized to update the ones that still exist. As a result, the FAQ’s questions have survived but not necessarily the answers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about habitats, wildlife, bird feeding, birds, and related subjects that have often come up in conversation, online and off.

How do I get my yard certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat?

  • The National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification program

How can I become a wildlife rehabilitator?

  • Career information from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) 
  • Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator from the Wildlife Rescue League

How can I keep squirrels out of my birdfeeders?

  • Put the feeders on poles in a clear area away from branches, trees, and other launching points. Feeders should be at least 6 feet off the ground and 10 feet horizontally from trees and buildings.
  • Hang suspended feeders using fishing line rather than wire
  • Use baffles below the feeders if mounted on a pole and above the feeder if handing from a hook or tree branch
  • Suspend the feeders from a wire strung between two poles. Put sections of freely rotating plastic tubing on the wire between the poles and the feeders.
  • Use a feeder with a weight-sensitive tray that will close if a squirrel climbs on it but will allow birds to feed freely.
  • Use a feeder with a surrounding metal cage that will allow songbirds in but keep out squirrels and larger birds such as blackbirds and grackles.
  • Give the squirrels their own food supply elsewhere in the yard.
  • Don’t believe the people who tell you that squirrels don’t eat safflower seed or suet with hot pepper in it.

How can I keep cats away from my feeders?

  • No one has a great solution, but squirting them with water is highly recommended. A garden hose works fine for this purpose, though many people highly recommend a supersoaker. Cats can also be handled by surrounding the feeding area with two- or three-foot high lengths of large mesh fencing (like chicken wire).
  • If you own a cat, keep it indoors! For more information, see the American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors! Campaign.

What should I feed to attract bluebirds?

From Darlene Sillick, North American Bluebird Society, Education Chair: Our feeder of choice has been the X1 from Droll Yankee. It is a plastic dome top feeder with an adjustment screw that enables you to raise and lower the top to allow only small birds into the ‘tray’ to feed. I suggest hanging it in a tree where you see the bluebirds etc perching as they are looking to hunt for those slow moving insects. Another good idea is to cut a couple of small branches of berries of some sort and twist tie them on the hanging arm to help attract the birds to the feeder naturally. Keep the top raised till the birds are comfortable at entering the tray. Do not place the feeder close to your regular feeder because the bluebirds are not usually attracted to a seed feeder.

Here are some of the suggested items to place in the X1, in moderation till the birds use the feeder:

  • Bluebird choice, a prepared suet, raisin, corn mixture
  • Currents, they love them! 
  • Raisins, cut into thirds
  • Mealworms
  • Crumbled suet (our recommended one is Blueberry Suet, but any type of fruit suet will work); crumble a tablespoon at a time.
  • Sometimes sunflower chips or peanut hearts

Water is one of the most important draw for the bluebirds in the winter. Be sure to use a heater to keep some open water for all birds.

A tray feeder of some type could also be used but the Droll Yankee X1 has a life time guarantee. To use the wooden bluebird feeders means a lot of time for you to ‘train’ the birds to get comfortable to use it. 

If you have bluebirds around consider placing a nestbox for them to use as a roost. If you have nestboxes up already be sure to winterize them by stuffing weather stripping in all holes and vents. Other birds may use the boxes such as downy woodpeckers, chickadees, and titmice. Remember to keep dead trees around and consider even ‘planting’ a dead tree in your yard

What’s GORP?

Originally published in Wild Bird Digest

1 C. Lard (no substitute if you don’t want it to melt)
1 C. Peanut butter (crunchy or not)
2 C. quick cook oats
2 C. corn meal
1 C. white Flour
1/3 C. sugar
Melt lard and peanut butter over low heat, then stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into a pan or what have you (such as margarine tubs), let cool.

More Gorp and Other Recipes [Originally, this linked to another webpage, so I think I’ll make it a separate post.]

What are millet sprays?

Millet sprays are the stalks with seed heads still attached. They are sold for pet birds and can be purchased at pet stores. They come in packages or bulk – bulk is cheaper by far. Tie them to small branches (so the squirrels can’t get them; the branches are too thin to support their weight). Several species of birds, including juncos and cardinals love them.

Is feeding peanut butter bad for birds?

There have been no documented cases of a bird being harmed by eating straight peanut butter. It’s fat, just like pure suet. However, those who are concerned about this can mix in other ingredients.

Do bird bath heaters work?

Yes. Many people use heaters for their birdbaths in the winter. For safety, choose a model with a thermostat that will shut off if the temperature is above freezing or if all the water evaporates or spills out, plug the heater into an outlet with a Ground Fault Interrupt (GFI) safety feature, and protect the outlet and extension cord from water as much as possible.

How can I keep birds from flying into my picture window?

Window kills are a problem that is just being realized in the birding community as a major source of bird mortality. The numbers of such deaths may be in the millions. When birds are startled, they fly to safety as quickly as possible. The reflection in windows offers one such escape route. You need to break up that reflection so that the birds take a different route to safety. 

  • A contrasting hawk silhouette is one method. Go outside and look into your window. If your interior is dark, use a light colored silhouette. If your interior is light, use a dark hawk.
  • Other types of window cling decorations work also, and may be less expensive. Check a school supply store, Staples, or other source of children’s nature supplies for attractive alternatives to hawk silhouettes.
  • Hanging things in front of the window will help–hanging baskets, wind chimes, stuff like that. Dangling a couple of ribbons may also break up the reflection.
  • Cut streamers like metallic blue tinsel or bright orange surveyors’ tape into narrow pieces and tape them here and there to the outside of the window so they flutter in the breeze.
  • A recent article in a birding magazine recommended taking two toilet paper rolls (or a paper towel roll cut into to pieces), covering the pieces in iridescent contact paper, tying one to each end of a piece of string, and hanging them in the window at different levels. The theory is that the reflected light will warn birds away.
  • Closing your curtains or turning on a inside lamp during the hours of the reflection may also help.
  • Screens help, both by breaking up the reflection and by providing a cushion before hitting the glass.
  • Putting up a safety net will save a few birds, but it doesn’t solve the problem of the reflection.
  • Check the suggestions on the PFW web on the PFW web

What should I do if I find an injured bird?

First, do no harm. Assess the need for intervention and follow advice from experienced rehabilitators. The basic steps are to keep the bird isolated and quiet while locating a licensed rehabilitators to care for it. Do not feed it food or water.

Did I really see a bald cardinal?

There are ongoing reports of “bald” birds, especially cardinals and blue jays. No one knows for sure what causes the baldness, but the possibilities include molting (for some unknown reason, the bald birds may have dropped all of their head feathers at once), feather mites, lice, or environmental or nutritional factors.

What is the “Great Wren Debate”?

In 1925, Althea Sherman wrote an article “Down With the House Wren Boxes” reporting her observations of the wrens’ destruction of nearby nests of other birds. Today, some people feel that because of this behavior and its effect on other species, house wrens should not be so overwhelmingly helped by humans and the providing of nest boxes.  Others feel that Althea Sherman was a bit hysterical both in her initial embrace and her subsequent demonizing of house wrens.

It is true that house wrens wreak havoc on nearby nests and sometimes the nestlings and nesting birds as well. Providing nestboxes for house wrens will help attract them if they are not already present and will decrease the chance of nesting success of other birds. Other birds would have to nest a distance away from the nest box to be safe.

However, many people greatly enjoy a pair of house wrens on their property. Wrens exhibited this behavior long before humans started providing nest boxes and apparently the other species are able to maintain their populations. It’s worth noting that the birds that have their eggs destroyed typically start over in another location and complete their nesting. The only species whose numbers are reported to be affected by the house wren is Bewick’s wren in some eastern areas.

How do I tell a house finch from a purple finch?

  • Overall Size: Purple Finches are slightly (but clearly) larger than House Finches
  • Head Size: A Purple Finch’s head is slightly (but clearly) larger relative to its body than a House Finch’s head
  • Color: Male Purple Finches are wine-colored, and the color is more evenly distributed over the bird than is the case for the House Finches
  • More Color: The Purple Finch’s wing bars are pinkish – vs. white in the House Finch.
  • Even More Color: The chest and belly stripes on the Purple Finch are pinkish vs. brown for the House Finch
  • On females, the two head stripes of the Purple Finch are clear and distinct vs. absent on the House Finch

How do I create field notes and sketches?

The more specific detail, the better. You can also create a sketch or take a photo to assist in the identification.

What’s that group of birds called?

  • A siege of herons
  • A siege of bitterns
  • A brood of chickens
  • A herd of cranes
  • A murder of crows
  • A team of ducks (in flight)
  • A paddling of ducks (on the water)
  • A convocation of eagles
  • A charm of finches
  • A skein of geese (on the wing)
  • A gaggle of geese (on the water)
  • A flight of goshawks
  • A covey of grouse (single family)
  • A pack of grouse (larger band)
  • A colony of gulls
  • A kettle of hawks
  • A brood of hens
  • A charm of hummingbirds
  • A band of jays
  • A deceit of lapwings
  • An exaltation of larks
  • A flush of mallards
  • A watch of nightingales
  • A flock of parrots
  • A covey of partridge
  • A muster of peacocks
  • A brood of pheasants (family)
  • A nye of pheasants (large group)
  • A flight or flock of pigeons
  • A congregation of plovers
  • A run of poultry
  • A bevy of quail
  • An unkindness or a congress of ravens
  • A clamour of rooks
  • A walk of snipe
  • A host of sparrows
  • A chattering of starlings
  • A mustering of storks
  • A flight of swallows
  • A herd or a wedge of swans
  • A flock of swifts
  • A knob of widgeons
  • A herd of wrens
  • A parliament of owls
  • For more information, see Group Names for Birds or Birds in Numbers

What’s the best book on … ?

A bibliography and reviews of titles recommended by participants in Project FeederWatch has been compiled by Cristina Eisenberg. [I’ll make that separate webpage into a separate post as well.]

Which are the best binoculars (or scope)?

This must be one of the most often heard questions in every birding discussion group I’ve ever been a part of, I guess because all of us need the information at some point in our birding lives, when we realize that those old faithful binoculars we had for years and taken for granted just aren’t good enough. Here are some sources of objective reviews: 

  • Better View Desired
  • BWD… Your Guide to Optics!
  • Optics for Birding Home Page
  • Living Bird – A Guide to Spotting Scopes
  • New Jersey Audubon Society
    • Reviews
    • Pick of the Pack
    • Pick of the Pack for Spotting Scopes

What other gadgets are available?

Birdcam

Should I buy Shade-grown coffee?

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center discusses shade-grown coffee and provides a list of certified shade-grown organic coffee vendors. The 2001 theme for International Migratory Bird Day was helping people make the “Coffee Connection.” 

You might be a birder if …

  • Someone yells “Duck!”, and you look up and shout “Where?”
  • Vacations are planned to maximize the number of life birds.
  • You criticize television programs and commercials that depict a Bald Eagle but play a Red-tailed Hawk call.
  • Your kids are named Buteo and Accipiter.
  • People stop and stare when you pish at the shrubbery at the local mall.
  • Lunch breaks find you driving to check out your favorite hot spot.
  • Your spouse says, “Its either me or the birds,” and you have to think about it.
  • On sunny days you hop in the car, crank up your tape of bird calls, and drive like crazy to the nearest mountain where the thermals are great for soaring hawks.
  • You pay a neighbor kid $20 to roll on a carcass and lay still while you search the sky for vultures.
  • You try to talk your kid into going to college in Belize so that you have an excuse to go and bird there.
  • It’s a northeaster, the rain is horizontal, a small craft advisory has been issued, but it’s birdathon and you need to up the day’s list.
  • Clouds take on the shape of birds, and you can distinguish male from female, and adult from immature plumage.
  • A machine squeaks at work and you describe it to maintenance as sounding like a black-and-white warbler.
  • The first time you meet your future in-laws, you demonstrate the courtship dance of the woodcock, replete with sound effects.
  • You spend fifteen minutes preparing dinner for your family, and thirty minutes mixing and placing seed for your birds.
  • You wake up your spouse at 5:30am and exclaim, “Is that a phoebe I’m hearing outside the window?”
  • Preparing for trips to visit out-of-state relatives involves contacting local birders, securing local bird lists, and buying the appropriate Lane’s Guide.
  • You identify calls of birds in the soundtracks of television shows and movies.
  • You’re willing to fight with anyone who criticizes your optics.
  • You participate in hours-long discussions about the pros and cons of using a certain field guide.
  • You lose friends, and perhaps even your spouse, from fighting over the pronunciation of “pileated.”

More Jokes

Thayer Birding Software….Bird Jokes

Acknowledgements

This FAQ was created by members of the email list for Project FeederWatch, PFW-L, to help new members of the list have ready access to some of the information learned and shared over their time together online. Comments, corrections, and suggestions for additions may be sent to faq@wrenaissance.com. The FAQ is not an official part of Project FeederWatch and has neither been reviewed nor sanctioned by the staff nor by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Thanks are due to the following contributors, whose suggestions are included or who are quoted or paraphrased in this FAQ: Sara Anderson, Dave Bowman, Mike Ciaramitaro, Shelly Ducharme, Cristina Eisenberg, Catherine Fagan, Susan Freeman, Jackie Gribble, Jack Griggs, Teresa Hall, Marilyn Hardy, Denise Hughes, Sherry Hunter, Dick Meyers, Terrie Murray, Bill Paolini, Ron Piper, Patty Scott, Darlene Sillick, Alice Topping, and Katherine Wolfthal. Thanks are also extended to Cornell University, Project FeederWatch, and present and former FeederWatch staff members Laura Kammermeier, Anne Marie Johnson, and Margaret Barker.