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Q&A
Ask the Expert
Steve Kress, Audubon’s vice president for bird conservation, offers tips on helping injured birds—and keeping healthy ones out of harm’s way.

 John Goodman

How do you prevent backyard debacles from ruining your vision of a bird’s nirvana? Few people know better than Steve Kress, Audubon’s world-renowned ornithologist—a.k.a. the “Puffin Man”—for his work restoring Atlantic puffins off the Maine coast. Kress has written nearly a half-dozen books on how to create natural havens around the home for birds and other wildlife. Here’re a few more tips from the expert:

Audubon: What should a person do with a stunned bird?
Kress: If a bird hits a window and is only stunned, place it inside a paper bag or a cardboard shoebox with ventilation holes in a secure-fitting lid. If the temperature is frigid, place the box in a dark, warm, quiet place indoors.  Otherwise, leave it outdoors in a location safe from predators. If the bird is likely to survive, you’ll hear it walking around in the box within a few hours.  After recovery, carry the container to a nearby hedge where the bird can find shelter. Open the box slowly, and it will likely depart quickly. With the exception of introduced birds, such as starlings, house sparrows, and domestic pigeons, it is illegal to keep birds (alive or dead), their feathers, parts, nests, or eggs without both state/provincial and federal permits. If the bird is more seriously injured, call your local Audubon center, animal shelter, or Fish and Wildlife Service office to find the nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Q: Does a little bit of lawn fertilizer or Roundup really hurt birds that are just passing through?
A: Too often, birds die from contact with chemicals on suburban lawns.  Homeowners in the United States apply about 78 million pounds of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides per year to their homes, lawns, and gardens—not including applications made by pest control or lawn care professionals. On a per acre basis, this is three times more pesticides than the amount used on agricultural crops. David Pimentel, professor of entomology at Cornell University, estimates that about 72 million birds die each year as a result of direct exposure to pesticides on agricultural lands, and an estimated additional 7 million die each year from lawn chemicals.

Pesticides can wash into rivers and streams, blow into neighboring areas, and seep into the groundwater. They also persist in soil and garden litter, and are readily tracked into our homes. Lawn and garden fertilizers run off into waterways, spurring algae blooms in streams, lakes, and ponds, which decreases the oxygen levels within these critical wildlife habitats. Whenever possible, it’s best to avoid all lawn and garden chemicals. In a nutshell, go organic. The birds will thank you.

Do you have a question about backyard birds? Ask Audubon ornithologist Steve Kress at editor@audubon.org; include “Ask Steve Kress” in the subject line of your message. 

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