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Western bluebirds. Photo by George Gentry, USFWS.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are migratory birds?

Migratory birds are those species that generally migrate south each fall from breeding grounds to their wintering grounds. They may winter in habitats throughout the Southeast Region, or even farther south into Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. In the spring they return north to their breeding grounds, where they have young and the cycle repeats. Migratory birds are definitely in the majority in contrast to resident birds that do not migrate.

Of the 836 protected migratory bird species, some 59 species are game birds. That is, hunting seasons are, were, or could be developed for them. Here, we are talking about ducks, geese, swan, various species of doves, snipe, rails, certain pigeons, and gallinules. In contrast to the hunted birds, there are 777 species (93 percent) considered nongame birds. They are represented in groups such as marsh and wading birds (6%), birds of prey such as hawks, owls and eagles ( 9%), shorebirds (10%), sea birds (16 %), and perching birds (59%). This last group make up the song birds that come to our feeders, and the neotropical migratory birds that usually do not (because they are insect eaters and not seed eaters). We hear much talk about these “neotrops” today. They are the warblers, vireos, flycatchers, hummingbirds, swallows, and others that migrate to wintering grounds south of the United States - in Mexico, South America and Central America, and in the Caribbean.

What does the office of migratory birds and habitat programs do?

All migratory birds are listed as a trust species for the Department of the Interior according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the primary responsibility for administrating the Act, its amendments, and subsequent acts through the Division of Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs. Declining species and species groups are a major priority.

How are hunting seasons set?

Hunting seasons are set through a regulatory process that begins each year in January and includes public consultation, the Service establishes the frameworks that govern all migratory bird hunting in the United States. Within the boundaries established by those frameworks, State wildlife commissions have the flexibility to determine season length, bag limits, and areas for migratory game bird hunting. Each state has primary responsibility and authority over the hunting of wildlife that resides within state boundaries The State fish and wildlife agencies that sell hunting licenses are the best source of information regarding hunting seasons, areas open/closed to hunting, etc.

How can I obtain or renew a waterfowl hunting license?

In order to hunt migratory waterfowl (ducks, geese, etc.), you must possess both a state hunting license and a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp (Duck Stamp). For information on Federal regulations and migratory bird hunting information such as season timing and bag limits, check out the Division of Migratory Bird Management.

To obtain a license, contact the state in which you wish to hunt or fish. Usually you can buy a license at any retail outlet dealing in hunting and fishing equipment or sporting goods stores. They generally also have regulation booklets, Federal Duck Stamps, and season/bag limit information available. Duck stamps are generally available at local Post Offices and refuge visitor centers.

Where can I report observations of banded birds?

Notify the U.S. Geological Survey, Bird Banding Lab at 1-800-327-BAND of any aluminum bands that are inscribed with “CALL 1-800-327-BAND” or “WRITE BIRD BAND LAUREL MD 20708 USA” followed by an 8 or 9 digit number. Older bird bands were inscribe as “AVISE BIRD BAND WASH DC”.

The lab does not track every band such as plastic covered aluminum bands on pigeons or bands on falconry birds. Contact the American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc. or the National Pigeon Association to find out more about bands on pigeons or your State Natural Resource Department for further information on falconry bands. The more information you can provide, the more likely the individual bird or marking project can be identified.

Important information to note include:

  • Size, shape, color of marker, color of codes, shape and placement of codes on the marker (a sketch can be more useful than a written description),
  • Age and sex of the bird if available,
  • Date the bird was observed,
  • Exact location of the bird,
  • Your name, address, and preferably a daytime telephone number in case there are any questions.

What can I do to help injured birds?

If you encounter a bird on the ground with no apparent injuries, especially during the spring time, you have most likely found a young bird of “fledgling” that is learning to fly. Young birds often leave the nest before they are capable of flight. They spend a few pre-flight days hopping on the ground and flapping their wings. The parents keep an eye on it and feed it when necessary. The best thing to do with this bird is to leave it alone if it is in a safe area. Bring your cats or dogs indoors for the day. It can be placed up on a tree branch or in a shrub if in a dangerous situation but must remain in the same area so its parents can find it. Do not believe the myth that if you handle a nestling, the parents will smell your scent and abandon the chick. Mammalian predators do follow scents though. If you approach a nest too often, or too closely, you may actually be leading a predator to it.

To find a rehabilitator in your area visit The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.

What should I feed backyard birds?

Check out our guides on Migratory Songbirds, Backyard Bird Feeding, Backyard Bird Problems, Attracting Birds, and Homes for Birds.

How can I keep my backyard feeders free of diseases?

While feeders serve as great focal points to observe our avian neighbors, they can also become vectors for disease. Diseased birds show a wide variety of symptoms such as unresponsiveness; unkempt feathers; “warts” around the eyes, beak, and feet; or you may see nothing at all. In some cases, the birds will stop using a contaminated feeder entirely. Here are some tips to help keep your feeder safe for birds:

  1. Give Them Space: Avoid crowding by providing ample feeder space.
  2. Clean Up Wastes: Keep the feeder area clean of waste food and droppings. A broom and shovel is good, but a shop vac will help even more.
  3. Make Feeders Safe: Use feeders without sharp points or edges. Even small scratches allow bacteria and viruses to infect otherwise healthy birds.
  4. Keep Feeders Clean: Clean and disinfect feeders regularly. Use one part of liquid chlorine household bleach in nine parts of warm water to disinfect. Make enough solution to immerse an empty, cleaned feeder completely for two to three minutes. Allow to air dry. Once or twice a month should do, but weekly cleaning is best especially if you notice sick birds at your feeders.
  5. Use Good Food: Discard food that smells musty, is wet, looks moldy or has fungus growing on it. Disinfect any storage container that holds spoiled food and the scoop used to fill feeders.
  6. Prevent Contamination: Keep rodents out of stored food. Mice can carry and spread some bird diseases without being affected themselves.
  7. Act Early: Don’t wait to act until you see sick or dead birds. With good prevention you’ll seldom find sick or dead birds at your feeders.
  8. Spread the Word: Encourage your neighbors who feed birds to follow the same precautions. Birds normally move among feeders and can spread diseases as they go.

What is the best ratio of sugar-to-water to use for feeding hummingbirds?

Four parts water to one part sugar (a 4:1 ratio) has been shown to be the closest to the sucrose content of natural flower nectar. Concentrations stronger than this (3:1 ratio, and stronger) are readily consumed by “hummers”, but no scientific evidence exists regarding the potential helpful or harmful effects on them. Do not use molasses or honey as they are harmful to the birds. There is no need to add red dye to the solution because the birds are attracted to the color on the feeder such as bright red feeder parts or a red ribbon. During the hotter months of summer, be sure to clean your feeders frequently to kill harmful fungus. A cleaning solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts of water works best.

How can I keep birds from flying into my windows?

Awnings, eave extensions, and window screens will eliminate all reflection and stop the collision problem. Silhouettes of flying hawks or falcons do work, but they perform best when applied outside the glass. Hanging ornaments such as wind chimes, wind socks, and potted plants also help. Misting the outside of the window with a very weak detergent or soda solution will eliminate the reflection but will also impair visibility for you.

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