Archive-name: birds-faq/wild-birds/part1 Last-modified: September 16, 1994 This is part 1

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rec.birds Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (Part 1/2)

rec.birds Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (Part 1/2)

Archive-name: birds-faq/wild-birds/part1
Last-modified: September 16, 1994

This is part 1 (of 2) of the Frequently Asked Questions list for the Usenet 
newsgroup rec.birds.  The FAQ is posted every other month.  Its editor is 
Brian Rice <>; send suggestions for new questions and 
other comments to him.

Do not send articles to the FAQ editor for posting.  rec.birds is an 
unmoderated newsgroup, so you may post articles yourself.  If you are a 
newcomer to Usenet, please read the official articles about etiquette 
in the newsgroup news.announce.newusers before you post.

If mail sent to <> bounces, try 

This section of the FAQ contains information about rec.birds and about
wild birds.  The other section of the FAQ contains pointers to more 
information about wild birds.


1.0.   All-purpose rec.birds etiquette
1.1.   I have a question about pet birds.
1.2.   Are domestic cats Satan?  --A Non-judgmental Attempt at Consensus.
1.3a.  Can I "count" this bird?
1.3b.  What are "listers"?
1.4.   I found an injured bird; what can I do?
1.5.   I found an abandoned nestling; what can I do?
1.6.   A wild bird is annoying me; what can I do?
1.7.   What is the Migratory Bird Treaty?
1.8.   I saw a rare bird!  What do I do?
1.9.   Why does everybody seem to hate Starlings and House Sparrows so much?
1.10.  Why does everybody seem to hate Cowbirds so much?
1.11.  I saw a bird which I can't identify.  Can someone help me?
1.12.  How do I keep squirrels out of my feeders?
1.13.  How can I make homemade hummingbird nectar?
1.14a. What kind of binoculars should I buy?
1.14b. What kind of scope should I buy?
1.15a. I found a dead bird with a band.  What do I do?
1.15b. I saw a banded or marked bird.  What do I do?
1.16.  If we throw rice at our wedding, will birds eat it and explode?
1.17.  Does providing food at feeders during summer keep birds from migrating?
1.19.  Acknowledgements


1.0.   All-purpose rec.birds etiquette

This newsgroup is for the discussion of wild birds.  Here is a partial
list of possible topics:

        Identifying birds in the field by appearance, behavior, and song
        Birding trips
        Attracting wild birds to feeders
        Behavior of birds in the wild
        Conservation of wild birds
        Research into bird life
        Bird taxonomy

Discussion of birds as pets is not appropriate in rec.birds.  The Usenet
newsgroup rec.pets.birds is specifically for caged birds.

If someone posts an article to this or any newsgroup that's not appropriate,
the proper response (if you feel you must respond) is to send that person 
e-mail.  Why?  Because Usenet is a device for saying something to lots of 
people.  In this instance, you need to say something to only one person, 
the offending article's original poster.  That is what e-mail is designed 

Please place your name and an indication of your geographical location, as 
well as a working e-mail address, at the bottom of your postings as a

rec.birds is read all around the world.  You will generate a great deal 
of goodwill if you take a moment to internationalize your postings.  Here 
are a few examples of ways to do this:

        a.  When you write about a bird species, why not find its 
            scientific name in your field guide and mention it?  It's 
        b.  When you refer to measurements, include the units.  For 
            instance, say "-10 degrees C" or "-10 degrees F" instead 
            of just "ten below."
        c.  When you cite a location, be specific.  Think: "Could someone
            on the other side of the world find this site on a map with 
            the information I've given?"

Please make your postings concise.  When posting followup articles, do 
not quote more than is necessary of the originals.

When you feel the urge to reply to a posting, consider whether e-mail to 
the poster would serve your purpose, rather than posting your reply to the 

If you write an article in anger,  wait 24 hours before posting it.
After that time has passed, it will be easier for you to edit your
post down to what is constructive, or to decide that your post would
be better e-mailed or discarded.

In the past, discussions of falconry in rec.birds have generated 
controversy.  Falconry is the keeping of raptors for use in hunting;
birds kept by falconers are in a semi-wild state.  After much debate,
a consensus emerged: if a post focuses mostly on hunting with raptors
or on their captive breeding, it is appropriate for rec.hunting.  If
a post offers information about raptors that is of general interest,
it is welcome in rec.birds.

Continued hostilities among supporters, tolerators, and opponents of
falconry recently resulted in the creation of two new newsgroups:
alt.falconry and  The presence of these newsgroups
does not automatically make mention of falconry in rec.birds forbidden,
but, as a practical matter, posts discussing falconry will probably
receive a warmer reception in the new groups than in rec.birds.  If 
your site does not carry alt.falconry or, you may
wish to ask your news administrator to add them.

The more unpleasant moments of the debates over falconry posts happened
for two reasons: 

        a.  Many people disagree over whether hunting for sport is moral.
        b.  Some birders suspect falconers of taking eggs or birds from
            the wild illegally.

Regardless of your opinions on these subjects, please assume that your 
fellow posters' respect for wildlife and the law is equal to your own.  
Doing so will help keep rec.birds an enjoyable forum.

Another topic guaranteed to generate ill will on rec.birds is that of 
domestic cats.  If you must post on this topic, please read the section 
below entitled "Are domestic cats Satan?  --A Non-judgmental Attempt at 
Consensus" before you do.  Then make sure that your post is constructive 
before you send it.  Avoid making implications about persons who keep cats.

Finally, be advised that Usenet is not a very good medium for expressing
moral outrage.  If your goal is to get others to "see the error of their 
ways," you'll obviously want to choose the strategy that's most likely
to work.  Angry Usenet posts put their targets on the defensive; the 
targeted persons, having been publicly criticized, often feel compelled 
to reply publicly with their own harsh words.  This phenomenon is what 
we call a "flame war," and the demoralizing effect it has on a newsgroup 
cannot be overstated.  It also does not lead to many changed minds; in 
fact, opinions harden and polarize further.  If you must inform one of 
your fellow Usenet readers that you think their behavior is morally 
wrong, it's in everyone's interest for you to do so in a carefully and 
humbly worded mail message.


1.1.   I have a question about pet birds.

Please post your question to the Usenet newsgroup rec.pets.birds.


1.2.   Are domestic cats Satan?  --A Non-judgmental Attempt at Consensus.

Many human activities lead to environmental damage in one degree or
another.  We clear, farm, flood, drain, divide, and build upon our 
surroundings with alacrity.  We have also begun to realize that we 
can take steps to minimize the damage we do.

Often, taking steps to preserve the environment is a lot like voting:
it's not clear that any one person's action will have more than a tiny
effect.  Nevertheless, like voting, there are many reasons why one should
go ahead and take those steps anyway:

        a.  Doing so demonstrates that one is a member of a community and
            shares responsibility.
        b.  Doing so sets an example and provides education to others.
        c.  One should always act in a way that, if you lived in a world
            where EVERYONE acted so, would make that world a good place.

One way human beings damage the environment is by breeding animals to 
suit their own purposes.  An example of such an "artificial animal" is 
the domestic cat, which provides affection and companionship for its
owner and sometimes reduces domestic pests; unfortunately, it also
hunts wild birds with little regard to its own food needs.  Some domestic 
cats probably do little damage to wild birds.  Others have single-handedly 
sent entire species into extinction.  Regardless, if you own a cat, you 
can take steps to diminish its take.  You can keep it indoors, or you can 
bell it (though the effectiveness of belling cats is often questioned).

Perhaps those steps will have little impact; perhaps your cat will only
kill one fewer bird during its lifetime than it would have otherwise.
Remember that there are billions of cats in the world, and, for example,
only a few hundred Kirtland's Warblers (Dendroica kirtlandii).

Invocations of "the survival of the fittest" are not relevant here.
Perhaps many birds are not competent to compete with housecats, or DDT, 
or highway construction programs.  Nevertheless, we wish to preserve 
those birds because they pre-date their human-assisted competitors, 
because they represent irreplaceable parts of our world, and because 
they are beautiful.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that indoor cats live longer.


1.3a.  Can I "count" this bird?
1.3b.  What are "listers"?

Many people who are interested in birds find it useful to keep a 
list of the species they have seen: a "life list."  Doing so helps 
them to remember their encounters with birds, and thus makes them 
better prepared to identify those birds in the future.  Consider 
creating one of your own; if you do, you'll enhance its usefulness 
if you include the dates and locations of your sightings.

The term "lister" refers to a person who particularly enjoys the sport 
of seeing as many bird species as possible within defined geographic 
areas.  So a lister might have a North America list, a backyard list,
a Kentucky list, and a Sweden list.  Sometimes the term is used pejora-
tively to imply that someone's interest in the natural world is super-
ficial.  Do not make this implication on rec.birds (see section 1.0 above).

If you are keeping your lists for your own purposes, you are free to
establish your own criteria for when you may include a bird on it.
Should you include birds that you identified solely on the basis
of their songs?  Even if they're nocturnal?  Birds that you saw only 
in silhouette?  All such choices are up to you.  Many birders with a 
naturalistic bent apply a stringent criterion: birds may be counted 
only if you feel that you've "met" them.

On the other hand, if you intend to submit your list to an organization
of competitive birders, you must abide by their rules.  For instance,
the American Birding Association once forbade the inclusion of "heard-only"
birds on North American lists (this restriction has now been lifted).  
Another important criterion for ABA listing is that listed birds must 
be of species on the official ABA list.  That means that you can't count 
an escaped parrot, for instance.  Most birders don't count escaped 
domestic or cage birds even for informal listing.


1.4.   I found an injured bird; what can I do?

Most people's encounters with injured wild birds happen around plate-
glass windows.  Birds strike glass windows and doors frequently, apparently
because of the reflections of sky they create.  In most cases, the bird
is simply stunned.  The best way to save the bird's life is to shoo 
potential predators from it until it recovers and flies off.

If you find a large bird, such as an owl, a hawk, or a vulture, that 
has been wounded, you may wish to contact a rehabilitation center, such
as the Carolina Raptor Center (+1 704 875 6521) or the Vermont Raptor 
Center (+1 802 457 2779), for assistance.

Be aware that touching large wild birds can be dangerous.


1.5.   I found an abandoned nestling; what can I do?

If you come across a nest full of nestlings with no parent in sight, do 
not assume that the nest has been abandoned.  In fact, the best way to 
ensure that the nest does not become abandoned is to leave the area at 
once.  Birds do not like large animals of any kind near their active nests, 
and may cut their losses at any time.  

If you find a nestling that has fallen out of the nest, consider placing
it back in the nest if the task can be done quickly and with a minimum 
of disturbance.  You may also consider placing it in a nest of the same
species.  In either case, make sure that your attempt is as unobtrusive
and rapid as possible.  You should not feel guilty if, after examining the 
situation, you decide not to replace the nestling; no nestling's survival
is guaranteed, in or out of the nest.

If you find a fallen nestling which you cannot replace in a nest, or if
after several hours of unobtrusive observation you determine that a nest 
full of nestlings is abandoned, do not attempt to rescue the birds unless 
you are prepared to commit to dawn-to-dusk feedings, keeping them close by 
you at all times.  See _The Bluebird: How You Can Help Its Fight for 
Survival_, by Lawrence Zeleny (Indiana, 1976), for an account of hand-
raising Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis).  Contact a wildlife rehab center 
for assistance.  

If a bird can perch on a branch by itself and is covered with feathers, it 
is a fledgling, not a nestling, and should be left alone.  

Note that hand-raising birds without authorization may be a violation 
of the law.


1.6.   A wild bird is annoying me; what can I do?

Probably little.  In countries that have signed the Migratory Bird Treaty, 
virtually nothing.

The most frequent reports of bird annoyance on rec.birds are of wood-
peckers pecking on houses.  Woodpeckers peck on things for four main 

        a.  To find food;
        b.  To send a loud territorial signal;
        c.  To construct nest or roost sites; and
        d.  To store food (some species).

Try to figure out what benefit the bird is deriving from your house,
and remove it.  For example, if a woodpecker is using your wall
as a sounding board, perhaps you can change the surface so that it
resonates less.  

In the United States, there are certain commercial products that
purport to discourage woodpeckers by causing unpleasant sensations
on contact.  I have no information on these products.

Chuck Otte suggests thin strips, 3/8 to 3/4 inch wide, of mylar ribbon 
about 12 to 18 inches long tacked in the area of damage.  Obtain these
from balloon shops or florists.  Be sure to remove the strips once they 
are no longer necessary so as not to create litter.

In any case, any offending bird is not likely to hang around forever.


1.7.   What is the Migratory Bird Treaty?

In the early twentieth century, several governments realized that
the protection of migratory birds was not something one nation could
accomplish alone, because birds do not respect national boundaries.
The treaty was signed by the United States and Great Britain (on
behalf of Canada) in 1916 and was implemented in the United States
by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The United States has similar
treaties with Mexico and Japan, and it also signed one with the 
Soviet Union.

The Act makes it illegal to "pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill,
attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell,
offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for
shipment, ship, export, import," etc., migratory birds, parts of
their bodies, or their eggs or nests.  Governmental authorities
may make exceptions to allow, for example, hunting seasons or 
research work; in these cases, licenses or permits are involved.

The "take" provision above makes it imperative that birders
refrain from harassing birds that are attempting to nest.  See
"Birders and the U.S. Federal Laws" in the October 1992 _Birding_
for more information.  Note also the "possess" provision above;
it explains why wildlife rehab centers do not give molted feathers 
to persons who request them.

In the United States, the Act appears in law at 16 USC 703-711 and 
is implemented by regulation at 50 CFR 21.11, 10.12, 10.13.


1.8.   I saw a rare bird!  What do I do?

If you saw it on private property, seek the property owner's permission
before publicizing it.  See "ETHICS FOR BIRDERS," below.

Assuming that you've received permission, or if the bird was seen on
public lands, post a report to rec.birds, of course.  Include a complete 
description of the bird; the date, time, and location of the sighting; the 
names of those who saw it; and whether photos were obtained.

In North America, you can also call the North American Rare Bird Alert
(U.S. and Canada: (800) 458 BIRD).  You can also call the regional
rare-bird hotline; North American numbers are published regularly
in _Winging It_ (see section 2.4 in the other part of the FAQ).


1.9.   Why does everybody seem to hate Starlings and House Sparrows so much?

European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and House Sparrows (Passer
domesticus) are European species that have been introduced in several 
parts of the globe.  In particular, Starlings were introduced to North 
America by one man, Eugene Schieffelin, who wished to increase the 
popularity there of William Shakespeare; he set out to introduce all 
the birds mentioned in the Bard's writings.  Starlings were his greatest 

In areas where they are native, these species receive both affection
and scorn, as does any aggressive or conspicuous species in its home 
range.  In areas where Starlings and House Sparrows have been introduced, 
however, they compete for food and nesting sites with native species; 
thus they have a detrimental effect on biological diversity.  The decline 
of cavity-nesting birds (such as bluebirds, Sialia spp.) in North America 
has been attributed in part to them.

Because they are not native species, these two, along with city
pigeons ("Rock Doves," Columba livia), are not protected in North


1.10.  Why does everybody seem to hate Cowbirds so much?

Many cowbird species, such as Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
and Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus), are brood parasites.  That is, 
female birds lay their eggs in nests of birds of other species; the 
cowbird chicks hatch first and outcompete the other chicks for food 
and parental attention.

This behavior is an evolutionary adaptation.  Birds are not moral
agents, so we cannot describe brood parasitism as immoral.  Nevertheless, 
many birders cannot help but find it repugnant, particularly when treated
to the spectacle of a cowbird chick being frantically fed by parents
smaller than the chick itself.  This revulsion no doubt contributes
to cowbirds' bad press.

However, cowbirds have been helped along by human activities.  They
prefer as a habitat open lands, such as prairies, and the edges of 
woodlands, and humans have created limitless acres of cleared space
and limitless miles of edges over the past century through development
and roadbuilding.  Cowbirds have thus spread widely, and they are now 
too successful for the survival of many other bird species.  Thus they 
are trapped systematically by authorized persons in areas where they 
threaten endangered species, and some prominent ornithologists are 
calling for mass harvests of cowbirds on their winter roosts.

Because they are native species, cowbirds in North America ARE protected 
under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.


1.11.  I saw a bird which I can't identify.  Can someone help me?

Quite likely.  Post as complete a description of the bird as you can. 
Give the location in which you found the bird, and describe the habitat.
Also describe its behavior and any vocalizations you heard.

Obviously, describing the bird will be easier if you took notes while
observing it, an excellent habit to be in.  Most field guides include 
a "map of a bird": a schematic drawing of a bird with all the parts of 
its anatomy labeled.  This picture will help you note the details of an 
unknown bird systematically.


1.12.  How do I keep squirrels out of my feeders?

You will not be able to exclude squirrels entirely, as they are wily
creatures.  If you view your interaction with squirrels as a war, 
you will lose, and most people find it very demoralizing to be defeated
by an opponent with a brain the size of a ball bearing.

In most cases, you can diminish squirrels' consumption of your bird feed
through three simple tactics:

         a. Place your bird feeder on a post at least ten feet away 
            from any potential jumping-off point.
         b. Mount a baffle on the post.
         c. Ensure that there is some food for squirrels, such as
            by tolerating spillage of bird feed.


1.13.  How can I make homemade hummingbird nectar?

Heat four measures of water and add one measure of white table sugar; 
stir until the sugar dissolves.  Allow the mixture to cool.

There is no need to color the nectar.  Hummingbirds will take nectar
from any suitable dispenser regardless of the nectar's color; it does
help, however, if the dispenser itself is red.

Change the nectar and meticulously clean the feeder at least weekly, if 
not more often.  Some rec.birds readers recommend changing the nectar 
daily in hot weather.

Providing only nectar to hummingbirds does not endanger their diet.
They do need protein, but they eat insects and spiders to obtain it.


1.14a. What kind of binoculars should I buy?
1.14b. What kind of scope should I buy?                             
For both these questions, see the Optics FAQ, posted regularly in 
rec.birds by Ed Matthews <>.

The Optics FAQ is archived together with this and many other FAQs.
See the question "How can I get this and other FAQs by anonymous FTP? 
On the Web?" in the other part of the FAQ.


1.15.  I found a dead bird with a band.  What do I do?
    I saw a banded or marked bird.  What do I do?
Report sightings of geese with 3-character orange neck collars to:

         Dick Kerbes
         Canadian Wildlife Service
         115 Perimeter Road
         Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 0X4 

Report sightings of geese with 4-character neck collars (of any color) to:

         Donald Rusch
         Department of Wildlife Ecology
         226 Russell Labs
         University of Wisconsin
         Madison, Wisconsin 53706

Report sightings of color-banded shorebirds to:

         Doug Helmers
         Manomet Bird Observatory
         Box 1770
         Manomet, Massachusetts 02345

Otherwise, for birds found in the U.S., send the band or a description of 
it, along with a description of the bird and the date and location of the 
encounter, to

         Bird Banding Lab
         Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
         12100 Beach Forest Rd
         Laurel, Maryland 20708-4037

They may be able to help with banded birds found in Canada.


1.16.  If we throw rice at our wedding, will birds eat it and explode?

We are aware of no documented cases of birds suffering from eating rice.
Joe Morlan writes, "Bobolinks are reported to cause considerable 
damage to rice fields in parts of the southeast during fall migration.  
The alternate name for the Java Sparrow is 'Ricebird' because of its 
food preferences."  

See the June 1993 issue of _Bird Watcher's Digest_ for more information.


1.17.  Does providing food at feeders during summer keep birds from migrating?

No.  If you have a bird at your feeder during winter that "should have
migrated," it was injured or too ill to migrate.



This section is excerpted from Claudia Wilds's outstanding book _Finding 
Birds in the National Capital Area_ (Smithsonian, 1992; available from 
the ABA).

 1.  Put the welfare of the bird first.
     a.  Do nothing that would flush a bird from its nest or keep it
         from its eggs or young.
     b.  Avoid chasing or repeatedly flushing any bird; in particular,
         do not force a tired migrant or a bird in cold weather to use
         up energy in flight.
     c.  Do not handle birds or their eggs unless you have a permit
         to do so.
     d.  Make a special effort to avoid or stop the harassment of any
         bird whose presence in the area has been publicized among
         birders.  This stricture especially applies to the use of
         tapes and to the disturbance of nesting birds, and of vagrants
         and rare, threatened, and endangered species.
     e.  If you think a bird's welfare will be threatened if its presence
         is publicized, document it carefully and report its presence only
         to someone who needs to have the information (e.g., a refuge
         manager, an officer of the appropriate records committee, the
         editor of the appropriate journal).  If you are not sure,
         discuss it with the manager of a rare bird alert or another
         experienced and responsible birder.
 2.  Protect habitat.
     a.  Stay on existing roads and trails whenever possible.
     b.  Leave vegetation as you find it; do not break it or remove it
         to get a better view, or trample marshland into mud.
 3.  Respect the rights of others.
     a.  Do not trespass on property that may be private, whether or not
         "No Trespassing" signs have been posted.  Ask the landowner
         directly for access unless specific permission for birders to
         enter the area has been announced or published.
     b.  Do not enter closed areas of public lands without permission.
     c.  If you find a rare bird on land that is closed to the public,
         do not publicize it without describing the possible consequences
         of doing so to the owner and obtaining appropriate permission.
     d.  Stay out of plowed or planted fields and managed turf or sod.
     e.  By behaving responsibly and courteously to nonbirders at all
         times, help to ensure that birders will be welcome everywhere.
         Do nothing that may have the consequence of excluding future 
         birders from an area.
     f.  When seeking birding information from others call only between
         9 a.m and 9 p.m. unless you know that your call will be welcome
         at that number at other hours.

1.19.  Acknowledgements

Thanks to the many persons who reviewed this document, especially the 
following, who provided additional information or text: Tom Lathrop, 
Christine Barker, Ignaz Wanders, Annika Forsten, Samuel Conway, Tony 
Lang, Sterling Southern, Byron K. Butler, Al Jaramillo, Ed Matthews, 
Celia E. Humphreys, Fred G. Thurber, Paula Ford, Malcolm Ogilvie, Daan 
Sandee, Carena Pooth, Nina Mollett, Mike McLeish, Janet Swift, Christian 
Steel, David Allen, James Dean, Joe Morlan, Mark Huff, Kevin McGowan,
Chuck Otte, Bernard Volet, Paul Burnett, Jennifer Norman, Mark Hammond,
Derk Drukker, Jorgen Grahn, Alan Middleton, and Steve Buettner.

Thanks to Laura Keohane of the law firm Dorsey and Whitney, of 
Minneapolis, for providing the text of the Migratory Bird Treaty 
Act.  (Neither Dorsey and Whitney nor any of its members has read 
this document, nor have they any responsibility for this document's 

_The Birder's Handbook_, by Paul Ehrlich et al. (Simon and Schuster,
1988) provided valuable information and is highly recommended.

Please notify the FAQ editor of any errors.  If I have failed to
acknowledge your contribution, please do not hesitate to let me
know.  Further information on any subject is always welcome.

*********end of part 1 (of 2) of the rec.birds FAQ*********


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank