8 Tips to Help Migratory Birds

Taking a Few Steps Make Migratory Birds a Little Safer

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Our favorite migratory birds have returned from their annual journeys to enjoy seasonal food sources and their preferred nesting spots.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) reminds us that this high-endurance pilgrimage isn’t without danger for our migratory feathered friends.

Outdoor cats, poorly placed communication towers, unforgiving and — to birds — invisible glass surfaces, and pesticide-laced plants all await.

Making Migratory Birds Safer

The good news is that all of us can take steps to make migratory birds a little safer.

Here are 8 tips from the ABC we can all do to make life easier for our feathered friends.

8. Paint a Window Warning

The ABC says hundreds of millions of birds in the U.S. die from hitting glass every year – almost half of those on home windows.

8 Tips to Help Migratory Birds
Apply tempera paint to the outside surface of the glass to make windows safe for birds

Luckily, there are many ways to make your windows safe for birds.

Chris Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Director at ABC, says one of her favorite methods to make windows safe for birds is applying tempera paint to the outside surface of the glass.

Tempera is nontoxic, cheap, easy to use (and remove), and amazingly long lasting — even in the rain.

If you’re short on time, she recommends using a sponge to make a quick pattern.

With a little more effort, you can create spring-themed designs or even small works of art depicting your favorite birds, and either will help prevent collisions.

Remember: Whatever kind of design you use, make sure your lines are no more than two inches apart to help smaller birds avoid collisions.


7. Protect Birds from Cats

Cats are lovable pets, but they’re also instinctive predators.

One cat alone may kill up to 55 birds each year. It all adds up!

8 Tips to Help Migratory Birds
Cats are recognizable predators and their presence near nesting birds has been shown to reduce the health of chicks and decrease nest success

Grant Sizemore, Director of Invasive Species Program at ABC, recommends keeping your cat on a leash or in an enclosure to protect migratory birds (and keep your cat safe, too).

If you don’t have a cat, you can still support bird-friendly practices in your community by encouraging the passage of local ordinances mandating responsible pet ownership.

6. Make Your Yard a Bird Paradise

Clare Nielsen, Vice President of Communications at ABC packs her quarter-acre lot in suburban Maryland with dozens of the same native plant species you might see in nearby woods.

8 Tips to Help Migratory Birds
Rainbow Parrots perching in a flower garden

She’s created a “mini meadow” of asters, goldenrods, and native grasses and a tiny woodland of native viburnums, hollies, and other berry-producing shrubs that birds love.

She says the most important way she supports her local birdlife is by learning to love insects.

Even seed-eating birds can’t live without insects since their nestlings need protein-rich caterpillars to thrive.

Clare’s yard is a “pesticide-free zone,” and she prioritizes plants that support the most insect species. Some of them, like wild cherry, feed more than 450 species of moths and butterflies in the mid-Atlantic region.

5. Communicate with Communication Tower Owners

ABC says 7 million birds die every year in North America from collisions with communication towers.

Many of these deaths are caused by towers’ steady burning lights, which attract birds.

Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy at ABC says the simple solution is to use flashing lights as they pose little danger to birds.

8 Tips to Help Migratory Birds
American Bald Eagle perched on a communications tower

But sometimes owners need to hear from concerned citizens before making the switch.

Giving them a nudge is now easier with the release of the new SongbirdSaver app.

The app identifies potentially dangerous communication towers near you and provides contact information for their owners.

4. Keep Your Woods Wild

You can provide habitat for birds by letting things around the house get a little messy.

8 Tips to Help Migratory Birds
A young Barn Owl in its roost in a dead tree

Gemma Radko, Communications and Media Manager at ABC says she has a wooded backyard, so she tries to leave it as natural as possible by letting the understory grow and pull invasive plants such as Japanese stiltgrass and garlic mustard.

She leaves logs and fallen branches in place to shelter insects and other small critters that birds feed on.

When larger trees break or fall, she leaves them be — as long as they’re not hanging over the roof.

This gives snag-nesting migrants like the Great Crested Flycatcher places to nest — as along with year-round residents like Eastern Screech-owl and Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers — and is an excellent source of grubs and other bird food.

3. Give Beach-nesting Birds a Break

As temperatures rise, we head to the beach.

And we’re not alone: this is a critical time for several migratory species — like Black Skimmers, Snowy Plovers and Least Terns — that lay their eggs in the sand and are particularly vulnerable.

Black skimmer feeding in flight
Black skimmer feeding in flight

One of the biggest challenges birds are facing is unleashed dogs.

Kacy L. Ray, Gulf Conservation Program Manager at ABC, says their team in the Gulf Coast region team sees loose dogs eat eggs and take chicks.

This is a big problem considering that nearly all of these birds have declining populations.

She says the obvious solution is to leash dogs.

Or as her team likes to say, ‘Bird-friendly beaches have dogs on leashes!’


2. Fuel a Hungry Hummingbird

Put out those hummingbird feeders because the hummers are arriving.

Don' use red dye in your hummingbird mixture. Dyes contain petroleum that may be harmful to hummingbirds
Don’ use red dye in your hummingbird mixture. Dyes contain petroleum that may be harmful to hummingbirds

EJ Williams, Vice President, Migratory Birds & Habitats at ABC recommends using a mixture of four parts water to one part sugar.

And don’t use the dye.

Red dyes serve no purpose.

Most hummingbird feeders already have enough color on them to attract hummingbirds, and, even worse, these dyes contain petroleum that may be harmful to hummingbirds.

Don’t forget to change the mixture often to be sure it’s fresh and safe for those super-charged flying jewels.

1. Inspire a Future Bird Conservationist

Introducing birds to kids at a young age is the best way to protect birds and wildlife.

It instills a desire to explore the natural world.

And that’s only one benefit.

Help children bond with wildlife so they develop an environmental ethic that will remain with them for the rest of their lives
Help children bond with wildlife so they develop an environmental ethic that will remain with them for the rest of their lives

Andrew Rothman, Migratory Bird Program Director at ABC, says he has younger nieces and nephews in Wisconsin, and when he visits them during spring migration, he makes sure they get outside, where he can introduce them to birds.

It also helps children bond with wildlife and develops an environmental ethic that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Andrew hopes one of his nieces or nephews will be the John Muir of 2030.

Making Life Easier for Migratory Birds

Taking part one in of these 8 simple activities makes life easier for birds.

In the words of the great American naturist John Burroughs, “The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.”

Now get out and see birds!

If you love birds, consider supporting the American Bird Conservancy. Learn more at https://abcbirds.org/


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