Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do I keep the squirrels/raccoons off my feeders?
A. Yes, we all would love the look of birds happily perched on feeders hanging from trees, but reality dictates that you should use a baffled pole system. Baffled by what this is? Read on!
Q. What is Nyjer® Seed? Is it thistle seed?
A. For years Nyjer® ® seed (pronounded Nī-Jer) was in fact referred to as “thistle.” But people made the mistake of linking “thistle” to the thorny noxious weed and the Wild Bird Feeding Industry adapted the official name of “Nyjer®” ® seed to refer to the tiny, shiny black seed preferred by goldfinches. The best part? Squirrels don’t care for its taste so this is one seed you may offer in feeders located in trees! It is grown overseas and is sterilized before it hits American store shelves so it will not sprout in your yard. Of interest though: goldfinches don’t nest until thistle plants have gone to seed—they use the downy white seed pods to line their nests!
Q. What’s the best seed to use for my birds?
A. Black oil sunflower seeds (oilers), whether it’s in the shell or just the meats (oftentimes called “hearts” or “chips”), is nearly always a safe bet for birds. Everything from finches to chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, cardinals and grosbeaks love them. Nyjer® seed is always a good bet with finches, too. And squirrels don’t like Nyjer® ® which is an added benefit. If you have problems with
grackles and starlings, we recommend using safflower seed. Cardinals will eat the seed, and finches actualy enjoy it too, but the grackles and starlings (and even most squirrels) don’t find it tasty. If you’re having problems with red-winged blackbirds though, they will eat the safflower. It’s best to just use a feeder they cannot perch on. Note that in some areas the grackles and starlings eat the golden safflower. We think it’s due to the thinner hull.
Q. What are the moths I keep finding in my birdseed?
A. Indian Meal Moths are found in nearly any type of grain (even flour, cereal and cracker boxes) and are a nuisance to get rid of. You don’t want them in your house. The first rule of thumb is to always keep your seed in your garage, outside, or in the freezer. They do not reproduce in Nyjer® seed, but they love sunflower seeds. We recommend that you always use fresh seed (the older the bag, the more bugs in it) and that you keep the seed in an airtight container in your garage or outside. Metal garbage cans with tight lids are a great option if you can’t keep it in your garage. Freezing the seed will kill any larvae, so if you purchase seed that you suspect has bugs in it, store it in your freezer for 72 hours. If you do get moths in your house follow these steps:
- Carefully examine all packages of rice, flour, crackers, cereal, etc. Even if they appear sealed, the larvae may be in them. Toss any opened containers.
- Purchase a moth trap from one of our stores. It is safe to use in your house and attracts the male moths to a sticky substance, preventing fertilization of the female.
- After 2-3 months, the cycle should be broken and you’ll be moth free.
In a related question: yes, you can still offer the mealie seed to your birds—it will not hurt them. But, if the larvae have consumed a large portion of the seed, the birds won’t waste time cracking it open.
Q. How do I attract specific birds?
A. See our guides: Attracting Eastern Bluebirds, Attracting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Attracting Orioles
Q. And, how to do I keep certain birds from emptying my feeders?
A. Flocks of starlings, grackles and other blackbirds will quickly empty your feeders and deter other birds from coming in to feed. We have some suggestions, but preventing all these birds from coming to your yard may not be feasible.
- To prevent starlings: use a mix like Bye-Bye Starling instead of a standard wild bird seed. Starlings have relatively soft beaks and cannot crack open sunflower and safflower seeds. But, any seeds out of the hull or millet is fair game – avoid seeds with these in them during peak starling times.
- To deter other blackbirds: this is a much more difficult task and one that we recommend focusing on your feeder selection. You can purchase weight-activated feeders and set them low enough so that they close when heavier birds land on them. The problem with this is that cardinals and jays will also trigger the mechanism. You may also want to try offering just tube feeders and trimming down the length of the perches so larger birds cannot easily perch. Again, problematic if you’d also like to attract jays, cardinals, grosbeaks and other larger songbirds. With both of these approaches, we recommend slowly re-introducing your traditional feeders and pulling them instantly when the blackbirds re-appear. These are flock birds and will usually abandon an area if there is consistently a lack of food available. On the bright side: they do not eat Nyjer®© seed, so offer all the finch feeders you can!
- To deter flocks of house sparrows: we recommend offering black oil sunflower, which house sparrows cannot easily crack open. They also do not like Nyjer®© seed, so offering finch feeders containing only Nyjer®© (no finch mixes) is a great way of attracting more birds to your yard.
Q. How do I identify a new bird?
A. There are a variety of books, online resources and apps for mobile devices available to assist you. Take a look at our Tips to Identifying Birds page.
Q. How do I offer a nesting spot to my birds?
A. Many of our backyard friends are cavity nesters and providing a safe home for them to raise their young is a wonderful experience for you and the birds. From bluebirds to wrens and chickadees, we have a sheet that details out everything you need to know. See our Nest box Basics.
Q. Why is that cardinal bald?
A. First, don’t worry about the gorgeous male cardinal who now looks like he met up with Sylvester the Cat. Even cardinals have male-pattern baldness. It’s typical for some to lose many, and sometimes even all of their head feathers, in late June/early July. They’ll grow back over the next six weeks, but until then they’re definitely a candidate for ugly bird of the month club. HOWEVER, if you see a bald cardinal during the fall or winter, you’ll want to monitor its health; it could be a parasite infestation. Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology has a great article and photos of cardinals trying to impersonate vultures.
Q. Why do my finches look poofy and/or die?
A. Finches are very susceptible to Salmonellosis and when we have mass irruptions of the winter finches (Pine Siskins and redpolls) there are so many congregated under your feeders that the disease spreads quickly. We recommend in addition to cleaning your feeders regularly, that you move your feeder locations twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall. During the winter, when your feeder pole may be frozen into the ground, we recommend shoveling all those discarded Nyjer® seed shells away from under your feeder. You’ve seen the birds massed under it, picking through the seed, just imagine how the disease spreads in that environment.
Q. What do I do if woodpeckers are pecking on my house?
A. There are two different behaviors and you’ll want to identify which one it is to take preventative steps: Drumming and Drilling. Drumming occurs in the spring and is a way to attract mates and define territories. The louder the sound, the more the woodpeckers like the drumming item (bad news for those of you with metal stovepipes!). Drilling occurs in the late summer through fall as a result of the woodpeckers searching for wasp larvae. Once you’ve determined the problem you’re dealing with, you can take some steps to deter it. Here’s a great article by one of our store managers on different options. Here’s also an informative woodpecker pdf.
Q. Why are birds pecking at my window?
A. Persistent window pecking is more common in the spring and early summer. Cardinals and robins are especially skilled at this. Why do they do it? Quite simple in their minds: they peck at windows because they see a reflection of themselves and think that it’s a rival bird. These birds are very territorial at this time of year. Their hormones are raging and they are not about to let another bird encroach on their territory. They are defending their mate, their nest and their food supply. These birds will usually go to a specific window and/or a specific area of the window. The best solution is to cover up that area, from the outside. You can use vinyl cling decals, soap the area, or even put up newspaper to cover the area, as long as they cannot see their reflection. Just remember, as the birds’ hormones subside, so will the window pecking. Until then, they will be persistent. You have to be just as persistent.
Q. What do I do if I find an injured bird?
A. If it hit a window, wildlife rehabilitators recommend setting the bird in a safe, quiet location for approximately 2 hours then checking on it. If you don’t have a protected area for it, you may put it inside a shoebox, move it to your garage and then take the box back outside before opening it after the two hours are up. One of three things will occur: most likely the bird will fly away. If the injuries were too severe the bird will have died and there’s nothing a rehabber could have done to save the bird in that short amount of time, or third: the bird’s injuries will be more apparent and you can then transport it in the same box to a local rehab facility. Don’t know where one is by you? Try the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) site. In Minnesota, go to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota (WRC) located in Roseville. They’re open every day of the year and easy to access off of Hwy. 36 and Dale St.
Here’s a helpful graphic as well: