Even the most well-maintained, beautifully landscaped yard could be hiding dangerous hazards for backyard birds. Once you are aware of these problems, however, it is easy to remove the risks without sacrificing the enjoyment you find in your yard or garden.
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All types of cats–lost strays, pampered pets or feral visitors–have razor-sharp instincts for hunting and will stalk not only birds, but also lizards, frogs, snakes, mammals and other backyard wildlife. Whether they are hunting for food, entertainment or curiosity, cats kill billions of wild birds around the world each year, and in many areas, native species are threatened or endangered because of predation from domestic cats.
How to Help: Keep your cat indoors, and take steps to discourage feral cats from visiting your yard. If your cat enjoys time outside, provide vigilant supervision or consider building a catio or other enclosure your pet can enjoy without threatening birds.
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We often use chemicals in our yards to eliminate weeds, control insects or nourish plants, but those same chemicals can be harming birds. When used inappropriately, toxic poisoning is a very real threat to birds and other wildlife. Birds might consume chemical granules, chemicals can contaminate feeders, baths or local water supplies. Even used properly, chemicals can eliminate resources birds need, such as protein-rich insects or nutritious weed seeds.
How to Help: Minimize chemical use in your yard, and when you must use chemicals, read application instructions carefully and follow all recommended use guidelines. Better still, eliminate chemicals and let birds be your natural pest control and weed-eaters.
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Glue strips, sticky traps and any glue-based pest control may seem like a fast, easy way to get rid of unwanted pests, but they're an indiscriminating tactic that can be just as fatal to birds. Small birds can get stuck on strips or traps as they try to feed off captured insects, and the glue can tear off birds' feathers or cause other brutal injuries. Even larger birds, such as raptors, may get stuck to traps as they hunt captured mice or rodents.
How to Help: Avoid using these traps in your yard. If you have no other options, be sure the traps are positioned appropriately so they are not accessible to other wildlife that may become stuck.
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Birds go nuts for all types of bread, from stale crusts and crumbs to cookies, donuts, chips, muffins and more. Unfortunately, these foods offer very little nutrition, and instead are the equivalent of avian junk food. Over time, a diet filled with bread scraps can lead to growth deformations, obesity and a range of other health problems. Birds that come to rely on such handouts can become aggressive and develop other behavior issues as well.
How to Help: Don't feed birds bread, or only offer it as a very rare, extremely limited treat. Consider choosing better bread for birds and making a more nutritious sandwich with a suet or peanut butter and seed filling.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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A well-groomed, weed-free flowerbed can be beautiful, but it can turn ugly when landscaping or weed control fabric becomes a threat to birds. Not only does this material make it more difficult for insectivorous birds to forage for food, including worms, but because it blocks weeds, birds cannot forage on those native weed seeds. Some birds may even tug on the edges of fabric to extract strands for nesting material, and those tough strands can pose tangle hazards to vulnerable nestlings.
How to Help: Use a deep, thick layer of mulch to reduce weeds instead of barrier fabric. If you do want a barrier beneath the mulch, opt for newspaper or cardboard that will naturally degrade and enrich the soil without posing a threat to backyard birds.
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There are many beautiful plants throughout the world, but not every pretty plant is valuable to backyard wildlife. Non-native plants are less easily recognized by birds, so they are not as useful for meeting birds' needs. If the plants are vigorous growers, they may also overwhelm and crowd out native plants birds rely on for food, shelter and nesting. The most invasive non-native plants often spread beyond backyards and take over in more natural habitats as well.
How to Help: Choose only native plants for your yard, selecting the best regional plants to nurture birds, bees, butterflies and other local wildlife. If you do want some non-native specimens, opt for varieties that are easily controlled or restrict them to containers.
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Often set out for birds as a soft nesting material, dryer lint is actually a toxic trap. Even using natural cleaners or organic products produces lint with high chemical concentrations that can be harmful to birds. Dryer lint also falls apart when it gets wet, dangerously tumbling young birds out of the nest. Wet, sticky lint may coat birds' feathers and make it more difficult for them to preen effectively, and long strands of hair or threads in lint can be tangle hazards in the nest.
How to Help: Never give birds dryer lint, and instead provide a variety of natural nesting materials such as grass clippings, mud, twigs, pine needles and plant down. Dryer lint can be reused in a number of ways: as kindling, used for crafts or composted.
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Dirty Bird Feeders
Not all bird feeders are helpful to birds, and if the feeder is dirty, it can harbor bacteria, mites and other pests that can spread diseases among the entire backyard flock. Many diseases are spread through feces and saliva, making it easy to contaminate many birds from one small feeder. Dirty feeders are also smelly, which can attract unwanted pests such as wasps, raccoons, rats and other visitors that will damage or destroy the feeder. Even bears might visit a dirty bird feeder.
How to Help: Clean and sterilize bird feeders regularly using a weak bleach solution that will kill unwanted bacteria and eliminate odors. Don't forget to wipe down perches, poles, baffles and nearby surfaces that may also be contaminated.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Dirty Bird Baths
Just like dirty feeders, dirty bird baths can also spread diseases to the different birds that drink or bathe from the basin. In addition to this problem, however, dirty bird baths can also be breeding grounds for mosquitoes that can transmit diseases to humans. Because of this risk, some homeowner's associations and community guidelines restrict the use of bird baths or require the basins to be maintained properly at all times.
How to Help: Keep your bird bath cleaned and rinse it out thoroughly with every refill. Bird bath fountains will minimize stagnant water that breeds insects, or consider using a copper bird bath that will stay naturally cleaner.
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Empty Feeders and Baths
Clean or not, bird feeders and baths aren't any use to birds if they aren't kept filled. An empty fixture forces birds to seek food and water elsewhere, and if they can't rely on the backyard offerings, wild birds may move on to different resources and stop visiting the yard altogether. Empty feeders can also become home to unwanted insects such as wasp or hornet nests, or mice or rats may take up residence.
How to Help: Keep feeders and baths properly filled. Smaller feeders may need more frequent refills, but there will be less chance for seed to spoil before it is eaten. Bird baths can be positioned so they are automatically refilled by sprinklers, drips systems or other means.
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Unsafe Bird Houses
A cute, quirky bird house might be a fun garden accent, but that doesn't make it a suitable home for baby birds. A house with bright colors will attract predators' attention, and if the house has a perch, predators have a nifty handhold to access the nest. A lack of ventilation or inadequate space can smother nestlings, while a house that is improperly positioned could sway or fall in storms. An entrance hole that is too large can also admit predators and more aggressive birds.
How to Help: Take steps to keep bird houses safe, including using the proper entrance size and safeguarding bird houses from predators. Proper mounting will also keep predators from accessing the house, and houses should be cleaned after the nesting season to eliminate mites and bacteria.
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Even a friendly dog can be a threat to backyard birds. A dog will be a source of stress for both parents and chicks, especially when fledgling birds have left the nest and are more vulnerable on the ground. Dogs can also dig up ground bird feeders or baths, as well as disrupt native plants that birds rely on for food, shelter and nesting material. A more aggressive or untrained dog may even attack or harass birds deliberately.
How to Help: Supervise your dog when it is outside, and train it to stay away from all wildlife, including bird feeding areas or bird baths. Provide a safe, secure kennel or run for your dog to enjoy being outside without being a threat to birds.