Q: I found a baby bird on the ground. What should I do? I don’t want it to die.
A: If the bird is not injured, the best possible thing to do is to put it back in its nest as soon as you find it. Please visit our page on "Orphaned Baby Birds" for tips and information.
Incubation and fledging
Q: How long do birds usually incubate their eggs? And, once hatched, how long does it usually take for young birds to fledge from the nest?
A: The time for incubation varies from species to species but, as a general rule of thumb, it takes most songbirds two weeks to incubate their young and another two weeks before the young are ready to leave the nest. Visit our “Nesting Information” page for specific incubation and fledging periods for many common species.
Painting/construction near nests
Q: There is a bird nest very near my house. I have some painting and construction projects on my house that I want to do this summer. Can I just move the nest to another location close by?
A: Birds are very sensitive to their environment during the breeding season. In particular, you take a big risk when you move a nest, even if you move it a short distance. The bird may abandon the nest and anything in it. Additionally, it is illegal to disturb the nests of birds protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
A few people have told us that they had their house painted, including the area by the nest, and the birds were able to successfully fledge their young. Others have chosen to wait till the young fledge before beginning any projects. In general, from the time the bird begins sitting on its eggs until the young are ready to leave the nest, four weeks will pass. If you can afford to wait, that’s the best choice for the birds.
Q: Why don't we ever see any baby pigeons?
A: This is one of those urban mysteries that does have an answer! Pigeon nests are well-hidden and the young usually stay in the nests until nearly full-grown. Often, the young birds, or squabs as they are called, become even bigger than their parents just before they leave the nest. By the time we see them walking and flying around, it’s hard to tell them apart from their parents. No wonder most people never see baby pigeons!
Q: I’ve been seeing a bald cardinal at my feeder. Is it sick?
A: We receive many inquiries about bald birds, especially Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays, and blackbirds. In late summer and fall, when a bird molts, it usually grows and replaces all its feathers gradually, but occasionally a bird loses all the feathers on its head at once. The result is a very strange looking bald bird! This happens most frequently with first year birds. Don’t worry—usually the feathers grow back just fine.
It is possible that the baldness is caused by environmental or nutritional factors, feather mites, or lice. To read more and take a look at photos of other bald birds, visit the “Bald Birds” page on the Project FeederWatch web site.
Q: What should I do if I find algae in the birdbath?
A: We recommend cleaning off the bottom of the bath immediately if green algae starts to form. Just use hot water and a good scrub brush. In order to delay the formation of algae, you should change the water in your bird bath frequently. It also helps to keep the water moving. You can purchase a small aerator that not only helps prevent algae but also works to attract birds. You can learn more about our recommendations for birdbaths on our page about attracting birds with water.
Q: Every summer most of my hummingbirds disappear for a few weeks, then come back in good numbers. What's going on?
A: When the females have young to feed, they spend most of their time looking for tiny insects rather than sipping nectar. Insects contain protein, which the nestlings need in order to grow as fast as they do. Once the young have fledged, the parents still continue feeding them for a few days until the youngsters have figured out how to catch their own food. That’s when you’re likely to see them at your feeders again.
Q: There aren’t any birds at my feeders. I’m used to having lots of them. What’s going on?
A: I wish I could tell you that there's an easy answer to your question but there isn't. Bird populations normally fluctuate seasonally and from one year to the next. One way to find out whether others are reporting a similar lack of species is by visiting eBird. A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird enables bird watchers from around the continent to record what they’re seeing and share their sightings with others. You can check reports for your county and go back four or five years to see whether you notice any kind of decline in the data.
Although I can’t tell you exactly what's going on in your neighborhood, there are several common causes for bird population fluctuations.
- Habitat changes affect bird populations. If there has been a change in your neighborhood, such as trees being cut down or new houses being built, that could be the reason you are seeing fewer birds.
- Natural food supplies—such as cones, berries, seeds, and insects—fluctuate from year to year, causing birds to shift ranges to take advantage of food surpluses or to compensate for food shortages.
- Weather patterns often cause birds to shift ranges, especially in winter.
- Birds of prey sometimes move into an area, causing the local birds to feed elsewhere until the predator moves on.
Let's both hope that your birds return soon.
Spring and summer bird feeding
Q: Is it OK to keep feeding birds in the spring and summer?
A: Yes, it is. Some people prefer not to feed birds in the spring and summer when there is abundant food. However, during migration in the spring, a bird feeder might be a very welcome source of food for a bird that has already come a long way from its wintering grounds and still has a long way to go before reaching its breeding grounds. In the summer, even though there is a lot of food available for birds, their energy requirements are high because they must feed their young. Here at the Treman Bird Feeding Garden at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we keep our feeders filled year-round for the benefit of the birds and the pleasure of our visitors. Whether or not you do too is up to you!
To ensure a safe bird-feeding environment, change hummingbird nectar every three days. Dispose of wet or moldy birdseed. Change water in birdbaths daily. Remove suet in hot weather because it may spoil quickly.
Q: I have wasps in my birdhouse. What should I do?
A: According to The Birdhouse Network, a citizen-science project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, wasps and bees seldom usurp boxes from nesting birds. They are mostly found in empty boxes. If these insects are found in a box, it is best to let them be and not take any active measures to exterminate them. Instead, wait to clean them out in the fall when the weather is cooler and their activity has halted. You can prevent wasps and bees from establishing themselves by applying a thin layer of soap (use bar soap) onto the inside surface of the roof. This will create a slippery surface between the insects and the roof of the box. For more information about maintaining nest boxes, visit The Birdhouse Network.
Q: I have a pond behind my house that I’ve stocked with fish. Several herons have been taking fish from the pond. I don’t want to harm the birds, but I do want to stop them from taking these fish. Do you have any suggestions?
A: I can certainly understand not wanting the birds to eat the fish you’ve paid money to have in your pond. Of course the birds are only doing what they have to do: find food. You'd just like them to do it somewhere else. People have tried a variety of techniques to discourage herons. We don’t have specific information about which of these techniques work best since we try to encourage the birds to stay at our pond here at the Lab. For suggestions, visit the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds web page on deterring herons.
For other links, I'd encourage you to do a Google search using the terms "heron deter pond." You'll find other suggestions at the Practical Water Gardens web site. There are many products available and many of the links that come up are to commercial sites.
You can read about the Great Blue Heron and other herons and egrets in the All About Birds Online Bird Guide.
Q: Will birds die from eating rice thrown at weddings?
A: This is a good example of an urban myth. And like many myths, it doesn’t go away easily. Many wild birds eat rice in agricultural fields, including House Sparrows. Some birds cause so much damage to rice crops that they are considered agricultural pests. You can throw rice at weddings without worrying about the birds, but some facilities ban throwing rice for another reason—it makes the sidewalk slippery and can be dangerous for the guests!