Frequently Asked Questions About Birds
If you don’t see your question here, please contact our Nature Shop, 520 629-0510.
Check out our Meet Your Birds section to learn more about common birds in and around Tucson.
Where do I report injured birds?
If you find an injured bird, please contact the organizations below.
- Tucson Wildlife Center: (520) 290-9453
- Forever Wild Animal Rehab Center: (520) 574-3579 firstname.lastname@example.org
What's a good hummingbird food formula?
- 1 part sugar
- 4 parts water (filtered or boiled); letting the water sit out for 24 hours ahead of time will help dissipate any chlorine from the tap water
- Make sure sugar in solution is completely dissolved before filling feeder.
- NO coloring is needed, and coloring is discouraged.
How do I clean hummingbird feeders?
Keep feeders clean and maintained – try to change solution every day or two, especially in warmer weather. Clean feeders every time you fill them. Soap residue can be harmful to birds, try vinegar and water to clean. Use a brush or similar device to clean inner surfaces. Rince thoroughly before refilling.
How do I get rid of bees at my feeder?
There are a number of solutions to this; all of which may or may not work. Bees tend to swarm feeders only at certain times of year; perhaps when flowers are less abundant or water sources are harder to find. The most effective thing to do most of the time is to simply take the feeders down for a week or two. The hummers will be fine, and the bees will move on (hopefully). Another option is to lower the sugar content of your solution to a lower sugar to water ratio, such as 1:5 or 1:6. Another option is to buy a saucer-shaped feeder in which the nectar sits far enough below the small opening that bees can’t reach it, while hummingbird bills can. These feeders are available in Tucson Audubon Nature Shop.
How do I get rid of woodpeckers at my feeder?
This is a difficult one. Woodpeckers can be destructive to feeders and also drain them quickly. There really isn’t a solution to this other than to buy feeders that are more difficult for them to use. Tucson Audubon sells a tear-drop shaped feeder with a concave bottom and no perches that the woodpeckers find very difficult to exploit. If you have feeders with perches, you can also remove the perches, which the hummers don’t need. Or, you can just enjoy the antics of the woodpeckers!
Why and how are my feeders being drained overnight?
During migration in spring and (especially) fall, two species of nectarivorous bats migrate through southern Arizona; the Mexican Long-tongued Bat and the Lesser Long-nosed Bat. They are the culprits behind the empty feeders. If this bothers you, take the feeders down at night for the few weeks during which they migrate through. Or, simply go out and enjoy the show!
See bats at a feeder in this video, https://www.facebook.com/tucsonaudubon/videos/10153771761332233/
How will my hummingbirds survive the winter cold snaps?
The hummingbirds that winter in our area can withstand sub-freezing temps to a point. Putting out food for them in the mornings will help them during the crucial feeding time after the dawn frost. If sub-freezing temperatures are forecast, bring in your feeders at night and put them out again in the morning to ensure non-frozen food.
When should I take down my feeders at the end of the season?
Some of your hummingbirds will migrate and some are resident in southern Arizona. The migrants will know when it’s time to go, and your feeders won’t change that fact. You can use hummingbird feeders in Southeastern Arizona at any time of year.
I want to get involved in hummingbird rescue
Tucson Mt Hummingbird Rescue (TMHR) is the only State & Federally licensed facility that focuses on hummingbirds in southern Arizona. TMHR main project goals are focused on outreach to the public regarding hummingbirds at all stages of development. TMHR strives to keep non-injured hummingbirds in their habitat through re-nesting and support nesting of young, along with education of the southern Arizona community so that the best decisions are made regarding intake of hummingbirds for care. Some hummingbirds need to be rescued, and with each contact TMHR has with the public there is an opportunity for education and recognition of an act of kindness by a person. TMHR is looking to train full time Arizona residents to gain the necessary experience to seek their own state/federal licensing in wildlife rehabilitation. The goal is to develop a team that can work together to achieve TMHR’s project goals. The first step is to accept candidates for the direct hands on care of hummingbirds. Please contact TMHR/ Noreen@ email@example.com for more information as to how you can become involved. Thanks!
I found a baby bird...Now What?
Is the bird hurt or sick?
Yes: Call a wildlife rehabilitator (see below for contact information). If one is not available, call the state wildlife agency (see below for contact information) or call a vet. If unable to reach any of these, go ahead and attempt to rescue the bird following the steps in the section below titled How to Rescue Baby Birds.
No: See the next question
Is the bird feathered?
Yes: It’s a fledgling and it is normal behavior to be hopping on the ground, parents will feed it. Is it safe from cats, dogs and people? If it is safe, leave the area as the baby is okay. If it is not safe, put the bird in bushes or on a tree limb nearby. Watch it from a distance and look to see if the parents are nearby. If you do not see the parents, call a wildlife rehabilitator. If you do see the parents, leave the area as the baby is okay.
No: It’s a nestling and it needs help, can you find the nest and is it intact? If it is okay, put the baby back in the nest and then observe from a distance to see if the parents are visiting the nest. If not, call a wildlife rehabilitator. If they are visiting the nest, leave the area as the baby is okay. (If you can’t find the nest or it is not intact, make a substitute nest by poking holes in the bottom of a berry basket or margarine tub; line it with dry grass and the old nest parts or pine needles and hang from a nearby tree. Put the baby in the nest and then observe from a distance to see if the parents are visiting the nest. If not, call a wildlife rehabilitator.)
If you find a baby duck, goose, quail or killdeer:
If you know the mother is dead, or if the baby is injured, call a wildlife rehabilitator right away. If the baby is separated from the mother and you know where she is, place the baby close by so she can hear it. Watch from a distance. If mother is not found or does not claim baby within an hour, call a wildlife rehabilitator. If you cannot reach one, rescue the baby using the instructions in How to Rescue Baby Birds.
Is the bird a hummingbird?
Hummingbirds with injuries generally cannot be “rehabilitated.” However, young birds can be successfully “rescued,” raised and released, if you are absolutely sure no parent is taking care of them. As noted above, if you find a young, uninjured hummingbird out of the nest and unable to fend for itself, the best course is to facilitate reuniting it with its parent. Often a parent will find the bird if it’s safe from cats and dogs. Only if you are absolutely sure there is no parent should you try to rescue it. Noreen Geyer of the Tucson Mountain Hummingbird Rescue says that to make absolutely sure there is no parent, you should find the nest and watch it for 90 minutes. Often an adult will come. Specific questions about hummingbird rescue can be directed to Noreen Geyer at the Tucson Mountain Hummingbird Rescue, 520-743-0677. Noreen is forming a hummingbird rescue team that can educate people about when and how to rescue, and facilitate the rescues that are really necessary–call her if you are interested.
How to Rescue Baby Birds
- Prepare a container: Place a clean, soft cloth with no strings or loops on the bottom of a cardboard box or cat/dog carrier with a lid. If it doesn’t have air holes, make some. For smaller birds, you can use a paper sack with air holes.
- Protect yourself: Wear gloves, if possible. Some birds may stab with their beaks, slice with their talons/claws and slap with their wings, to protect themselves, even if sick; birds commonly have parasites (fleas, lice, ticks) and carry diseases.
- Cover the bird with a light sheet or towel.
- Gently pick up the bird and put it in the prepared container.
- Warm the animal if it’s cold or to if the animal is chilled. Put one end of the animal’s container on a heating pad set on low, or, fill a zip-top plastic bag, plastic soft drink container with a screw lid, or a rubber glove with hot water; wrap the warm container with cloth, and put next to the animal. Make sure the container doesn’t leak, or the animal will get wet and chilled.
- Tape the box shut or roll the top of the paper bag closed.
- Note exactly where you found the bird. This will be very important for release.
- Keep the bird in a warm, dark, quiet place. Don’t give the bird food or water. Leave the bird alone; don’t handle or bother it. Keep children and pets away.
- Contact a wildlife rehabilitator, state wildlife agency, or wildlife veterinarian as soon as possible. Don’t keep the bird at your home longer than necessary. Keep the bird in a container; don’t let it loose in your house or car.
- Wash your hands after contact with the bird. Wash anything the bird was in contact with (towel, jacket, blanket, pet carrier) to prevent the spread of diseases and/or parasites to you or your pets.
- Get the bird to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.
- Forever Wild Animal Rehabilitation Center / 8605 S. Craycroft Road / Tucson, AZ 85706 / 520.574.3579 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tucson Wildlife Center / (520) 290-9453 or (520) 903-1104
Where do I report banded birds?
Note color of band(s), which leg (right or left), order on leg (if there are multiple on the leg), and any numbers or ID marks that can be read. There is a long term study of urban Cooper’s Hawks going on in Tucson, so many of our Cooper’s have bands.
Where do I report dead birds?
If you find a dead bird, it’s better to leave it and call one of the numbers below. If you want to move it, be sure to use a bag or gloves and clean your hands afterwards.
- Univ. of Arizona Lab, George Bradley: (520) 621-3187
- Pima County Health Dept: (520) 740-3191
- Electrocuted birds – see next question
Where do I report raptor nests on power poles, or electrocuted birds?
If you find a raptor nest in a power pole and are concerned the birds might get electrocuted due to close wires, call Tucson Electric Power’s customer service line. If you find an electrocuted (and likely dead or highly injured) bird, call both TEP and AZ Game and Fish.
Is the hawk or owl in my neighborhood going to eat my small dog/cat/pet?
Most raptors, especially one large enough to attack a small dog (and I mean small, like a Chihuahua), stay well away from human activity. Keep in mind that it is very rare for raptors to make off with domestic pets. Great Horned Owls probably pose the greatest threat but even they only weigh up to about 5 pounds (at the very most) and cannot carry anything heavier than about their own body weight. So if your small domestic animal disappears from your yard it is more likely that a coyote came over the wall (or fence). Still, raptors can attack pets even if they can’t carry them off. Great Horned Owls hunt mostly at dusk and dawn. In some parts of town and the surrounding desert, the Harris’s Hawk can be conspicuous and more bold around humans than other raptors. When you are out keep your pets on a leash and watch them when in your yard.
NOTE: Birds of prey look bigger than they really are. Harris’ Hawks weigh about 2 lbs, give or take an ounce or so. A Great Horned Owl can weigh just over 5 lbs (but that’s a big one–many are only 3 lbs!) Eagles are pretty rare around here, and Bald Eagles prefer ducks and fish. Golden Eagles prey on rabbits, and are shy around humans only vary rarely seen in the metro area.
Why is that woodpecker drilling holes in my house and what can I do about it?
Gila Woodpeckers, which are quite numerous in the Tucson area, have adapted well to city living. In their search for nesting sites, the side of your house may be at least worth checking out. Often after a few seconds of tapping, the woodpecker will move on, looking for a more suitable site and it doesn’t become problematic. If he likes your house siding, then you will probably have to intervene. Owl decoys may help, but are largely ignored by other birds. Sheet metal patches work to protect siding and trim. Many people tie CDs to strings and have them dangle freely in directly in front of the area the woodpecker is interested in.
Why is that woodpecker drumming on my house/air conditioner/vent pipes?
During the breeding season (beginning in spring) territorial male woodpeckers try to claim some real estate. They do this by drumming on the most percussive things they can find, and in cities they have many loud options, almost always attached to homes. This drumming is generally not damaging, but it can be quite loud and disturbing if done on something that echoes it well.
Why aren't there birds coming to my feeder?
Here in Southeastern Arizona, it seems the birds are always on the move. The migrating species are heading north or south and many of our resident species may move to higher or lower elevations. It’s all about food sources. The Lesser Goldfinches you enjoyed all winter may disappear to exploit the natural food in that wash up the road. Much of the activity at feeders is seasonal and their movements add to our understanding of nature.
New feeding area:
If you’re just now starting to feed birds, it may take a while for them to find your feeder. Location and time of year both play a factor. Every situation is different, so be patient and you will hopefully be rewarded when your neighborhood birds begin including your feeders in their routines.
Predators can also affect your population of feeder birds. Cooper’s hawks, which are numerous in Tucson, are the most common feathered backyard predator. There are other diurnal raptors that can prey on your feeder birds as well. Keep in mind that by creating a feeding station for birds, you are also creating a very tempting place for predatory birds to feed. You’ll have to accept this as part of the enjoyment of watching the birds at your feeder.
On the flipside, domestic cats pose a huge threat to wild birds. Cats are also attracted by gatherings of feeding birds, and can impact the presence of birds in your yard. Many cat owners have a hard time believing that their cat kills birds and other small animals. If you know the owner of the cat, try to convince them to place a collar and tiny bell on it (or better yet, keep it inside). If the cat is suspected to be feral, call animal control.
How can I scare pigeons or roosting blackbirds from my yard?
This is a dilemma if you feed birds – you’re inviting them into your space. That invitation generally includes all the bird species in your neighborhood. Here’s some advice about 1) not attracting pigeons and 2) discouraging pigeons and other unwanted birds once they are there.
Avoid attracting pigeons:
- Architectural elements: for example, eliminating ledges and perching places with netting, mesh, or spikes.
- Don’t spread seed (or other food) on the ground (this is also important for preventing the spread of disease)
- If you feed birds with seed feeders,
- reduce the number of feeders and use feeders that are less likely to drop seed on the ground.
- avoid using quail blocks
- use more black oil sunflower seed and less of the grains
- pigeons and blackbirds like grains, so if you usually feed grain, consider switching to black oil sunflower seed for a while
- try other feeders like hummingbird feeders and suet cakes (pigeons don’t use these)
- Elevate your water dish off the ground and keep it small so that not a lot of pigeons can get at it at once
- Pigeons like open areas where they can look for food on the ground, so plant your yard with as much dense native vegetation—trees and shrubs—as possible. This will make the area less inviting to pigeons and more inviting to native birds.
Discourage unwanted birds if they have already taken hold:
- Owl or raptor decoys may work for a while, but don’t be surprised if you see a pigeon sitting on the head of your plastic owl a few months after installing it.
- Noise and movement: for years, gardeners have hung aluminum pie pans, CDs, or the like from strings in trees or rafters to scare away pesky birds. Variations of this might work for you, too.
- Recorded noises that might simulate a handclap or other startling noise can also do the trick.
- Gadgets are available such as sticky fly-paper sheets, sonic deterrents, and arrays of spikes to put on ledges to keep unwanted birds from perching.
- Don’t be afraid to be creative, just remember whatever you do may impact the other birds that visit your yard.
Why is the cardinal (or other songbird) pecking at my window?
Some bird species are more territorial than others. During the breeding season (which in SE Arizona can be most any time of year, depending on the species), many birds become more aggressive with other individuals of their own species. It may appear that they are admiring themselves in the window, but in fact they recognize the image reflected in the glass as a rival of their own species. Their instinct is to chase away the competition by fluttering at the window, pecking at the reflection, or otherwise acting strangely. This behavior may be annoying to some people, and others worry that the bird might hurt itself.
To discourage these aggressions there are a number of things you can try. One can use a cut-out owl or hawk silhouette applied to the window. A light inside the window might reduce the reflection. The most effective is to temporarily cover the offending window area until the bird is satisfied he has emerged victorious. This is usually along the base of the window where the bird can perch on the sill. Another method from Bob Ardiel: I’ve discovered that a face photo is a very effective deterrent. Simply tear out a page from a magazine that has a big face on it, like an ad for cosmetics, and tape it to the window. It can be removed in a day or two and kept on hand when cardinals or other songbirds return to peck again.
How do I provide water for birds in a safe and effective manner?
Bird baths and wildlife water dishes are available at a variety of locations. The key is to keep them clean. Clean and refill them frequently, especially in warm weather when disease-causing organisms may be transfered from bird to bird via water.
Ponds and other large water features are not necessary and may waste scarce water to evaporation. A good option is a small dish with a recirculating drip, which helps attract birds.