Into The Air

The Official Blog of Backyard Chirper

Category: Bird Tips (Page 1 of 2)

How to Attract Wild Turkeys

It’s that time of year when we take a moment to admire the great turkey. Even though our relationship with these interesting birds tends to be of the vulturine variety, many people enjoy having them visit their yards.

Before we relay some tips for attracting wild turkeys to your property, it’s important to note that turkeys aren’t always the easiest guests. Wild turkeys can be loud, messy, gluttonous, territorial, and even dangerous. If you haven’t heard that great This American Life story about a turkey wreaking havoc on Martha’s Vineyard by literally attacking people, you should take a listen.

Live in a wooded area where turkeys frequent and still interested in getting these rambunctious birds into your yard? Read on.


Offer seeds, cracked corn, nuts, and berries

Turkeys eat a wide variety of foods, including everything from insects to crabapples. One way to attract wild turkeys is to set up a ground feeding station or use a platform feeder with cracked corn, nuts, and mixed birdseed. You may not want to encourage turkeys to go to the feeding stations you use for other species because turkeys can be territorial and drive away songbirds.

Plant native oaks and nut/berry producing plants

Even better than offering food to turkeys is to provide them with natural food sources. Not only will this make it easier on you and your wallet (feeding turkeys can be expensive) but it’s also great for the general ecosystem.

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Mnemonic Devices for Identifying Bird Songs

Recognizing a bird just from its song is no easy task. Sure, there are recordings you can listen to over and over or you could play a game like Larkwire, but it’s still exceptionally difficult unless you can really internalize the sound.

That’s why mnemonic devices and phonetics are essential.

For those who don’t know, a mnemonic device is a learning technique that associates something you have to remember with something else, such as a song, memorable phrase, or acronym. For example, the ABC song helps children remember the alphabet. “HOMES” is an acronym for the Great Lakes (pop quiz: name them!).

Redwing Singing

Because bird songs sometimes sound like garbled warbling and random chirping, people have come up with words to associate with the song. (For example, a towhee says drink your tea.) Phonetics, which are similar, use sounds to associate a song with a bird. (For example, a whip-poor-will says whip-poor-will.)

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How Often Should I Refill My Bird Feeders?

With fall migration finally here, it’s a great time to prepare yourself for an influx of visitors. We’ve written extensively about the things you can do to get ready, including cleaning your feeders, but we haven’t touched on how often to refill your feeders.

Many things affect the amount of time it takes for a feeder to become empty, including the feeder’s capacity, the frequency of visitors, the type of seed you offer, and weather.

Refilling is also a matter of preference. You can refill your feeders frequently or sporadically. Some people refill their feeders multiple times a day (especially during the busy season), many do it once a week, and others refill them once a month.

If you can’t decide how often you should be refilling your feeders, check out these three feeding schedules you can implement to see which fits your lifestyle best.

Refill when the food gets low

file000993137703Probably the most popular method of refilling feeders is to wait until the seed gets low and spring into action. This does require monitoring and vigilance.

What refilling feeders before they get empty does is create a reliable food source for your birds. This means there will never be a point when birds look elsewhere for food.

It also means that the food will almost always be fresh. By waiting until it’s almost empty, you ensure that old seed doesn’t stay in there too long.

Set up a scheduled date

One sure-fire way you will always remember to refill your feeders is to do it on a certain day. If you’re very vigilant, you can set an alarm for every Sunday to top off the feeder. The downside of this method is that sometimes (especially during migration), your feeder will become emptier much quicker than you’re normally used to. So if you have a large capacity feeder and you normally refill on the first of every month, you may have to adjust. The opposite goes for those times when birds aren’t coming around very often.

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Attracting Birds with Pishing

If you’ve spent any time in the field around passionate birders, you’ve undoubtedly heard them make a raspy sound that seems like they’re shushing. What the heck are they doing?


Read on to learn more about the sound.

What is pishing?

Pishing is the term for that repetitive sound birders make to attract birds. Pishing is an onomatopoeic word because it resembles the actual sound (similar to buzz or chirp). In the field, it usually sounds like a pish pish pish.

This sound imitates a bird’s call, specifically a bird’s alarm call. So wouldn’t pishing repel birds because they think there’s a threat of danger? An alarm call actually attracts birds initially because they come closer to assess the level of danger.

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What To Do If You Find a Dead Bird

Image by Art of Nature and Life via Flickr

Image by Art of Nature and Life via Flickr

Birds are lively creatures that elicit wonder and awe as they gracefully soar through the air. Seeing a bird hopping on the ground is endearing, but the true allure of birds reveals itself when they take flight.

That’s why it’s so disheartening and disconcerting when you find a dead bird on the ground. It doesn’t matter where you find the bird, it always seems to bring down the mood.

So what should you do if you come across a dead bird? Before we answer that question, let’s first take a look at some of the reasons a bird is no longer ascending into the sky.

Reasons a bird may have died

Finding the reason why a bird may have died is difficult, and you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to figure it out. A dead bird should be reported or disposed of as soon as possible. However, these are some of the most common ways birds die.

Thomas_Mongabay_image2.strike.568Collisions: That thump against a window is one of the worst sounds in the world. It means a bird has crashed head first into a window and one of two things have happened: it’s dazed but fine or it crashed too hard and broke its neck. Dead birds found near windows or reflective buildings have usually suffered broken necks. In this same category are cars and even turbines. For those two, sometimes the impact is enough to fell a bird.

Preyed Upon: Cats are a huge threat to birds, but it’s pretty clear when a bird has been killed by a predator. They’re typically mangled or half-eaten. However, predators may also come and chew on a bird after it’s already dead, so that’s not always reliable.

West Nile Virus: West Nile virus is a serious threat to many birds. Birds catch this deadly virus from mosquitoes and die from the infection. There’s no tell-tale sign of death by West Nile virus.

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How to Attract New Species of Birds to Your Yard


So you’ve lived in the same place for 30 years and think you’ve seen all the species in your backyard you’ll ever see. What if I said you could attract new bird species to your property that haven’t visited before?

You might think I’m some sort of snake oil —err—bird oil salesman, but it’s entirely possible. Even though House Finches and Downy Woodpeckers are remarkable birds with tons of personality, you might be itching to see some new birds after decades of seeing the same ones.

Here’s how you can do it.

Offer different types of food

If you’ve been offering the same types of seed over the years, you’ve likely seen the same visitors over and over. By putting out other types of food birds love, you’ll see an influx of other species, including some you may not have seen before.

Let’s go through some of the foods you can offer.


This is an easy one to start off. Suet is beef fat, often mixed with seeds and other food, that provides birds with energy. You can find suet feeders in our store, but you can also put it on a pinecone or directly on tree bark. We asked some of our readers for their homemade suet recipes if you’re not interested in pre-made suet cakes.



Nectar is another quick way to attract new birds. Don’t assume nectar only attracts hummingbirds either. Orioles and woodpeckers enjoy eating nectar. You can even buy oriole feeders to target them specifically.


Black-oil sunflower seeds are the most popular seeds because of their propensity for attracting a range of birds while providing the most nutrients. If you’ve used these your whole life, experiment with other types.

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Why Cemeteries Make the Best Birding Spots


In the midst of most cities is a relatively large oasis that’s quiet and free from human activity. There’s one catch: this is where bodies are put to rest.

Sure, cemeteries might seem like eerie and somber places to go birding, but you’ll see an array of birds you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Here’s why.

An oasis for birds

Everywhere you go, there’s a cemetery lurking not too far away. The reason why cemeteries are such great birding spots has to do with the fact that these are large, open spaces with trees and grass. Except for the occasional visitor, groundskeeper, or funeral service, cemeteries are typically free from human activity.

In a place like New York City that’s surrounded by huge buildings and concrete, a large cemetery like Green-Wood Cemetery is heaven. Green-Wood Cemetery is 478 acres of grass and trees right in the middle of Brooklyn. During migration, this is the perfect place to spot warblers and other species you wouldn’t normally see in New York.

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How to Keep Unwanted Birds Away from Hummingbird Feeders


Photograph by Chris Selvig via Flickr

The past few weeks, we’ve been writing about keeping your hummingbird feeders free from pesky ants and flying insects. One of our readers brought up another threat to hummingbird feeders, other birds.

Orioles are known for raiding hummingbird feeders, but they’re not the only ones. Woodpeckers, House Finches and other species tend to invade hummingbird feeders for a chance to drink the sweet nectar. And when these bigger birds eat the nectar, they usually scare away the hummingbirds, which defeats the whole purpose.

So here’s what you can do to protect your hummers from unwanted birds.

Get an oriole feeder, suet feeder and/or seed feeder

One of the best solutions is to simply get more feeders. If you mind having orioles coming to your hummingbird feeders, you can buy feeders especially for them. Oriole feeders are essentially the same as hummingbird feeders, but they can accommodate fruits and jelly as well as nectar. For woodpeckers, you can also put up suet feeders for them to get nutrition. You can do the same thing with other feeders, depending on the species hanging around your hummingbird feeders. Remember to make sure they’re always full, so the birds don’t have to turn to your other feeders for food.


Opus Glass Hummingbird Feeder

Get a hummingbird feeder without a perch

Small, perchless feeders essentially keep out every bird except hummers because most birds need to perch while eating. A simple feeder like the Opus Glass Hummingbird Feeder requires the birds to be in flight while drinking the nectar. A larger bird like the woodpecker wouldn’t be able to mob the small feeder. You can also trim down the perches on your existing feeders.

Buy or make a bird baffle

Even if the feeder itself doesn’t have a perch, sometimes birds are able to perch on top of the feeder or grab onto the wire that holds it up. You can put a standard baffle or create your own makeshift one out of an old CD.

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Tips for Attracting Purple Martins to Your Yard

Purple Martins are beautiful iridescent birds that have a long and storied history with humans. Native Americans used to hollow gourds and put them up for Purple Martins to nest in. However, since then, Purple Martin populations have suffered a setback with the introduction of European Starlings and House Sparrows.

Their numbers dipped over the years because these more aggressive invasive species have taken over their nesting places. Still, Purple Martins’ acrobatic aerial displays, shiny feathers and trust of humans make them a desirable backyard bird.

Here’s how to encourage these birds to come into your yard.

Purple Martin houses

One reason why Purple Martins are so coveted and beloved is that they are very social creatures who live in fairly large colonies. Because there is a lack of good nesting sites in many places, Purple Martin houses bring in large groups of the birds. These typically look like miniature houses with a few dozen holes in it or a rack of hollowed gourds attached to a pole.

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Three Tips For Attracting Owls to Your Property

Barn owl

Barn Owl

Owls aren’t exactly backyard chirpers. You’ll never see them hanging around your bird feeders interacting with chickadees and cardinals because they’re known as solitary and nocturnal. Still, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want to have one of these elegant birds hanging around your yard.

Unlike hawks and falcons, owls aren’t seen as aggressive predators that prey on your beloved backyard birds. Since most owls are nocturnal, they won’t disturb a bird feeders’ regular visitors. In fact, owls are great birds to have coming around your property because they hunt pesky mice and squirrels.

Owls have exploded in popularity over the past few years, especially after they were featured prominently in the Harry Potter series. But, if you’re a true bird lover, you appreciate owls for their unique behavior, expressive eyes and place in nature. Here are a few things you can do to encourage these beautiful birds to come around your yard.

Encourage rodents near your house

Providing ample food for owls is something many people prefer not to do. That’s because owls love to eat rodents, so you’d have to make your home a place more conducive for rodents to live nearby. If you are able to attract owls with rodents, the owls will naturally keep populations low, so you won’t have too much to worry about. To do this, you can leave piles of brush on your yard or have a more natural lawn.

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