Watchable Wildlife FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Where can I get help with bird identification. See our bird identification page.
This is a common problem that people have with decorative ponds that they stock with koi and other fish. The most likely predators of your fish are Great Blue Herons during the day and raccoons at night.
While there is no sure-fire way to prevent fish loss to predators, here is a list of measures you might want to try.
-Make at least part of your pond over 3 feet deep. That is too deep for herons to walk and will give the fish a place to hide.
-Submerge a structure in the pond, like a trash can, for fish to hide in.
-Put a statue of a heron by the pond. Herons are territorial and will not come around if they think the fishing hole has been taken.
-Put a net over your pond. It will keep out falling leaves as well as predators.
-Install a motion-sensitive light to shine on your pond to spook raccoons at night.
-Purchase a motion sensate sprinkler to discourage herons.
There are also many companies authorized to capture pest mammals, i.e. raccoons, squirrels, opossums, etc., however, no company is legally allowed to trap, remove, injure, or kill any species of bird native to North America.
Species that are not protected by state and federal laws in Tennessee include European Starling, House Sparrow (English Sparrow), Rock Pigeon or Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Ring-necked Pheasants and other released game birds not native to Tennessee, Muscovy Ducks, Mute Swan, Chinese Geese, and other domestic farm geese.
REMEMBER: All heron species are Federally protected and injuring or killing them is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which is punishable by fines and possible jail time.
Most baby birds, including robins and owls, leave the nest before they are able to fly. This is a normal part of life and critical for their development. The parents are most likely nearby and will be attending to the young bird. Unless a baby bird is injured, and you are unlikely to be able to determine this, it is very important to leave them where you find them. And make sure there are no cats around to harm them!
Nestlings- Nestlings have either no feathers or are covered by short feathers. If you are concerned that the bird fell from the nest and is too young, you may try to return the bird to the nest. If the nest has been destroyed or is too high and is unreachable, you may substitute a strawberry basket or small box lined with tissue and suspend it from a branch near to where you believe the nest is located. Contrary to the old tale that an adult bird will reject a nestling touched by a human, birds typically have a very poor sense of smell. They do however have very strong parental instincts and will usually continue caring for their young even out of the nest. Adult birds are cautious, so do not be alarmed if the parents do not immediately return. It may take more than an hour after a disturbance before they return to the nest or nestling. During this period it is essential for you to keep your distance.
Fledglings- Fledgling birds are typically fully feathered, but have short tail and wing feathers. They are able to walk, hop, and flap and may attempt short flights, and are still being cared for by their parents. If you find a fledgling, it should be left alone or at the most, placed into a nearby shrub away from predators. Keep people and pets away so the parents will continue to care for them. The term fledgling means that the bird has left the nest. If you try to put it back into the nest, it will likely jump out again.
For more information see: Cornell Lab of Ornithology orphaned bird page
Worst case scenario and you need a wildlife rehabilitator, see list of rehabbers in the state, listed by TWRA region and county.
Of the seven species of woodpecker found in Tennessee, six are known to occasionally "drum" on houses and sometimes cause damage to homes: Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Red-headed Woodpecker.
Woodpeckers hammer or drum on houses for 3 reasons:
1. To announce their territory. This would most likely happen in late winter through the breeding season (late-February through June) when males are attracting potential mates and to let other males know "this spot is occupied." Houses with aluminum siding, or with metal downspouts and gutters, or wooden trim on wood, brick or stucco houses may be targeted. This drumming is often not destructive, just annoying.
2. The woodpecker is building a nesting or roost hole. This is more likely to happen if your house is located near a wooded area and has clapboard siding or wooden shingles that are natural color or dark stained. They especially seem to like redwood and cedar.
3. They are foraging for food. This is commonly thought to be why woodpeckers are hammering on your house, however, this is NOT true. Some types of siding, like wooden shakes and siding, are susceptible to insect infestation; however, the insects that may be there are not likely a food source for the woodpeckers. While the woodpeckers may cause some damage, they might just be letting you know that you have an insect problem.
For more information, see the "Woodpecker Difficulties" sections of Backyard Wildlife Information page on the Watchable Wildlife web site.
You can find recommended control measures and additional information at:
REMEMBER: Trapping, removing, injuring, or killing any woodpecker in North America is illegal. All woodpeckers and all birds native to North America are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act with violations drawing up to a $500 fine and 6 months in jail.
Carolina Wrens and House Finches are common birds of suburban neighborhoods. They both commonly nest in hanging plants on house porches, especially in ferns and other plants with a thick cover of plant material. They pose no threat to humans. Once the young birds leave the nest, you may remove the nest from the plant. It is illegal to remove any bird nest that is active with eggs or young.
Carolina Wren nests are big with a roof and side entrance and, in addition to hanging plants, they may build them in wreaths, open mail boxes, rain gutters, and even on shelves inside carports or garages left open for extended periods of time.
Most likely the bird is a Northern Mockingbird. This robin-sized bird is gray with white wing patches and often holds its tail cocked up in the air. They are common in suburban neighborhoods and rural areas and nest in low trees and shrubs. Mockingbirds are known to aggressively defend territories against intruders of all sizes, including humans and pets, when they have young in a nearby nest. But fear not! They are unlikely to actually hit you, and even if they did, their bill and feet are relatively weak and are more likely to surprise you than hurt you.
REMEMBER: Trapping, removing, injuring, or killing a mockingbird is illegal. All birds native to North America are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act with violations drawing up to a $500 fine and 6 months in jail for killing a protected bird.
This is a multiple answer question. First, our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arrive in spring in Tennessee in March with peak numbers coming through until mid-May. We likely get the first young birds in mid- to late June and adult males start migrating south by the 4th of July! Expect larger numbers of hummingbirds through late July and August, which numbers dropping off through September. Few birds will remain into October.
The second answer is more specific to local conditions. Birds, like any highly mobile organism, come and go and aren't always in the same place from year to year. This appears to be more so for hummingbirds than other birds. Some causes in variation in hummingbird abundance include changes in the habitat in the area, specifically fewer flowers, fewer shrubs and trees, drought, excessive rain, among others.
Hummingbirds, like many birds, are selective in where they nest, rest, and feed, so you may or may not get them annually (if you typically only have a small number each migration). Also, in the breeding season there is typically enough natural food that hummingbirds and other birds don't need to depend on feeders. Natural food provides better nutrition than sugar water.
If you don't have hummingbirds, don't give up. Keep your feeders filled and cleaned and keep watching!
This is a fairly common thing to see in summer or early fall when birds are molting their old feathers. There is no known reason for the temporary "baldness," but there are a couple theories on why this occurs. First, cardinals and blue jays will for an unknown reason molt all their hear feathers at once, rather than sequentially as is typical. This leaves them bald as feathers grow in sequentially over a few weeks. Other explanations may include mites or lice causing the feather loss or other nutritional or environmental factors.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology bald bird information
Racing pigeons are used by a variety of groups and clubs around the country and across Tennessee. They typically band all their pigeons with various color bands, some with numbers. These tags identify the birds individually and may be used to locate the bird's owner. These pigeons are not native to North America and are not managed or regulated by any state or federal agency.
Links below can be helpful in finding out about the pigeon you have found.
Abnormal plumages is one of the most perplexing issues that bird watchers encounter. Many people see white birds that are not normally white, and call them albinos. In only a few cases is this technically true! Albinism is a genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin in the body, including the feathers, eyes, and any non feathered part of the bird. These birds also have pink eyes and legs. The majority of abnormally plumaged birds are leucistic. Leucism is a mutation that prevents proper pigment development in feathers. Many times, observers see birds with patches of white, those that are pale, or birds that are "pied." These birds are generally considered leucistic since there is melanin in their bodies.
Leucism is fairly common in birds, whereas albinism is much less common. You may find albinism or leucism in any species of bird, but it is more often seen (or detected) in Northern Cardinals, Red-tailed Hawks, and waterfowl because they are readily observed. In addition, corvids, i.e. crows, jays, and blackbirds, are often leucistic. Of course. it is easy to pick out a white bird in a large flock of blackbirds!
For more information, including pictures of albino and leucistic (pale and pied) birds see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.
The majority of banded birds are banded with permission and permits from the USGS Bird Banding Lab, which issues permits and bands and is the central repository for all bird banding in the United States and Canada.
The aluminum band on the birds' leg has a unique 9 digit number (usually 9 digits). Record the band number and double check for accuracy. You can go to the USGS site for reporting a banded birdor contact us with the information.
You will also want to record the exact location where the banded bird was found, species, date, and any other information you can gather. You may not be able to identify the species of bird, which often happens with dead and decayed birds. As long as you have the band number, date, and location, we can fairly quickly determine the location where the bird was banded.
Conjunctivitis is a common disease, primarily in House Finches, although it may occur in other finch species. The disease is a respiratory ailment, although it produces swollen, red, watery, or crusty eyes. Infected birds generally do not die of the disease, but rather suffer from starvation, exposure, or predation from not being able to see. Infected birds can recover. Conjunctivitis is caused by a unique strain of the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum, which is a common pathogen in domestic turkeys and chickens. The infection poses no known health threat to humans and has not been found in other songbirds.
This is a fairly common phenomenon across Tennessee. The answer is two-fold, but simple. First, gulls, primarily are Ring-billed Gulls, initially think the parking lot is water. This is common for ducks and loons, the latter landing on pavement and being unable to take flight again. Second, the parking lots that gulls frequent generally have a ready source of food, i.e. fast food trash and food discarded onto the ground.
American Robins are a nomadic, flocking species that wanders around the entire eastern United States in winter. Many people consider the robin the harbinger of spring, but they are in Tennessee year round. They even winter as far north as Pennsylvania and New York!!
Flocks of robins can number in the thousands as they wander around the state looking for food resources, which vary in location by year and within a winter. So you may see many robins in winter and then not see any for a couple months. Be assured, they are around, but maybe not in your immediate area!
One roost in the Hohenwald, TN area in winter 2008-2009 had an estimated 1 million robins!
At least 100,000,000 birds are killed and even more are injured EVERY year across North America by collisions with windows. Ornithologists have been studying this phenomenon for decades and their findings are very conclusive: birds simply do not recognize glass as a barrier. During daytime, birds often fly head-on into windows, confused by the reflection of trees or sky. This is a common occurrence even in the suburbs at homes and glassy office campuses. Of the birds that suffer head trauma, over half die.
Additionally, scientists have observed that at night the bright lights of buildings seem to confuse birds, especially during cloudy, foggy or rainy weather. Large masses of birds have been photographed during the night at one of Chicago's skyscrapers, the birds continually circling and battering the building lights. By dawn the birds are either dead or seriously injured. These birds were migrants on their twice-yearly, night-time migration. During some weather conditions and at certain "killer" buildings, the death toll can be in the hundreds per day.
Birds are attracted to the lights not only at the tops of the buildings but also to the lights in mid-level office windows and ground level lobbies and atriums. Recent research by ornithologists at the Field Museum of Natural History confirmed that simply turning off bright lights or closing blinds reduces bird deaths by 83%.
You can make a difference
Because of the enormity of the situation (after all, lights and windows are everywhere) many people find the problem too daunting to tackle. Don't be discouraged: there are many easy actions you can take at your home and office to significantly reduce the number of birds killed.
Even not washing the windows during the migration months helps keep the reflective qualities low and, thus, can help reduce bird injury and death.
And, please talk to the owners, managers and maintenance staff of your office building about what can be done to make the facility bird-friendly. Give them a copy of the BCN Window Collision Fact Sheet (PDF) and make them aware of the meaningful contributions they can make to save the lives of hundreds or thousands of birds each migration season.
Birds will occasionally be attracted to windows and "attack" their own image thinking it is competition. This generally does not end in mortality, but it is harmful to the birds and annoying to humans. This occurs only during the daytime, most often during the breeding season, i.e. in spring and early summer, when birds are defending their territories. Northern Cardinals, American Robins, and Northern Mockingbirds are the most common species that "attack" windows, including side mirrors on cars and trucks.
The best solution, which will also prevent fatalities from other window collisions, is to cover the outside of the window with netting or screening so the reflection is no longer visible or the bird is held too far from the window to injure itself or be such a nuisance for the homeowner. You may also try drawing soap streaks across the window to break up the reflection.
The territorial reaction may be so strong that birds may exhaust themselves, but it usually doesn't result in fatal injury.