Living with Songbirds

Songbirds refer to the large order of birds called Passerines. Songbirds are typically birds that have a toe arrangement that allows them to grasp branches and perch. This covers a wide variety of birds from large Crows and Ravens to the small Golden-crowned Kinglet. These birds are common backyard birds and regular visitors to bird feeders.

Are songbirds protected?

Yes! Songbirds in Nevada are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Nevada state law. It is illegal to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, possess, or transport any migratory bird, including its feathers, eggs, or nest.

Should I feed songbirds?

Feeding backyard birds with bird feeders has been an enjoyable hobby for many. However, there are some important ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ to follow to keep our backyard birds safe and healthy:

DO feed appropriate food – Songbirds eat a wide variety of seeds, but there are some they prefer over others. Feeding the appropriate seeds will help reduce food waste in your yard that can lead to attracting unwanted animals and creating a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and mold. There are a variety of resources on what types of seeds birds are most attracted to. Here’s a great one: link.

DON’T let your feeders get dirty – Cleaning out your feeders regularly is essential if you are choosing to feed birds. Dirty feeders can make birds very ill and possibly even kill them. For seed feeders, they should be cleaned out every two weeks. Cleaning the feeders and the leftover hulls and seeds on the ground around the feeder is very important to keep mold and bacteria from growing. For nectar feeders for hummingbirds, they should be cleaned out every three to five days. Mold and bacteria grow very quickly in wet conditions. During rainy times clean your feeders out more frequently.

DO follow any alerts regarding feeding birds – Bird feeders attract many different species of birds and many different individual birds to one location. Because of this, they can become a vector for spreading infectious diseases among birds. When a large outbreak occurs, NDOW and other agencies will often alert people to take their bird feeders down to reduce the spread of these diseases. If you are choosing to feed birds, please keep an eye for any of these alerts, and follow all recommendations.

DON’T feed table scraps – Not all food is good food for birds. Table scraps, bread, chocolate, and many other human foods can be toxic to songbirds. Having these types of foods out in your backyard can also attract other unwanted wildlife to your backyard.DO create a safe place for your birds – Attracting birds to your backyard is a responsibility you take on when feeding birds. Make sure your backyard is safe for the birds that are deciding to visit. Planting native plants can offer natural food and cover for your backyard birds. They can feed on the seeds and use the plants to protect themselves from any predators. Placing your bird feeders in appropriate locations can also help protect your songbirds from any aerial predators, like raptors. Placing your feeders near covered areas like trees and shrubs can help deter raptors from feeding on your songbirds. You can also protect your songbirds by covering your bird feeders or buying bird feeders that have small covers. Raptors are not the only predator looking for songbirds, domestic cats also have an affinity for songbirds. If you have a pet cat, keep it indoors.

What do I do if I find a baby songbird?

If you’ve made your backyard a safe place for songbirds then there’s a good chance they may opt to nest in or near your yard. With bird nests comes baby birds, and the increased likelihood that you may find a baby bird that may have fallen out of its nest. If you find a baby bird the first step is to determine what stage the baby bird is in; is it a fledgling or a nestling?

Fledglings will be fairly mobile and feathery. Most fledglings spend roughly two weeks hopping on the ground before learning to fly. It is a natural and essential process that gives these birds the freedom to learn how to be a bird. Fledglings that have left the nest most likely have no intentions of going back. Do not attempt to put the bird back in the nest in this case. If you find a fledgling they do not need your assistance and are better left alone. Parents of fledglings are always nearby to provide food and protection. Give the bird space to avoid discouraging parents from making these visits. You can help fledglings by keeping an eye out for the parents at a distance and keeping your pets indoors.

Nestlings will be mostly featherless, and overall appear more helpless than fledglings. Most likely the nestling’s nest is somewhere nearby. If you can find the nest, the nestling should be returned to the nest as quickly as possible. Most birds can’t smell and won’t abandon the chick because you touched it. If you see the nest has been destroyed, you can fashion a new one, place the chick inside, and watch to see if the parents come back to care for the chick. Make sure the nest is near the location where you found the nestling and in a safe, shady location off the ground.

If you find a chick and you think they are injured or ill, their parents have been found dead, or you can’t find a nest to put a nestling back into, note the exact location, observe its behavior, and contact NDOW. NDOW staff can help determine if the bird is injured. Do not attempt to feed or provide water to an injured chick.

*Overall, most baby birds do not need our help and intervening can actually harm the baby bird more than help.*

How can I help songbirds?
  • Planting native plants, using non-toxic pest control, keeping your feeders clean, and feeding the right foods are great places to start. 
  • Keeping your cat indoors can greatly help your backyard bird population. Outdoor cats kill an enormous amount of songbirds every year.
  • Reducing light pollution coming from your house to help songbirds during their migrations.
  • Reducing  bird collisions with windows by using some prevention techniques. Here’s a good list: link
  • Leaving baby birds alone.
What if I find an injured songbird?

Sometimes songbirds get sick or get injured. Collisions with windows are not uncommon. If you see a songbird that appears to be sick or injured, observe its behavior for a few minutes, and note the exact location. If the bird is still in the same location after 24 hours and it is not a fledgling please contact NDOW. NDOW staff can help determine if the bird is injured. Do not attempt to feed or provide water to an injured songbird. If you think the bird is sick and you have a bird feeder up, remove your bird feeder and clean it thoroughly.

Baby bird pocket card:

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