Bird-Friendly Backyards: Common Threats & Easy Ways to Help

By Carrie Chapin, Houston Audubon Conservation Technician

Despite good intentions, many things placed in backyards can cause harm to birds, resulting in injuries or mortalities. For example, birds can get sick from dirty feeders, and cats and windows are direct threats that vastly affect bird populations. Here are some of the most common backyard threats to birds and easy actions you can take to help.

Image by Karsten Paulick


Cats are the greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for birds, killing over a billion annually in the U.S. alone. Keeping your cat inside your home both protects them from the dangers of cars and other animals and prevents them from hunting and killing birds and small animals. Spaying or neutering your cat is another way to help, as it keeps them from reproducing and making the problem worse if they should escape. While cats are adorable, they wreak havoc on the native ecosystem and are best kept inside. Learn about the American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors Initiative.

Blue Jay (JVSmith)

Dirty seed feeders

Seed feeders should be cleaned about once a week to prevent mold and bacteria from growing on the food. Regular cleanings can also help prevent the transmission of avian conjunctivitis in House Finches. This disease usually causes death, and it may be best to take down feeders if you notice signs of eye disease in visiting House Finches. Learn more about bird feeder care and cleaning with Wild Birds Unlimited.

Spoiled hummingbird food

Hummingbird feeders are a source of delight and bring life and beauty to gardens. However, when these feeders are left unattended for over three days, they grow mold and fungi. Would you drink a glass of sugar water left out in the sun? Hummingbirds that eat spoiled food can develop candidiasis, swelling of the tongue caused by a fungal infection that is usually fatal. This food is also not safe for hummingbird young in the nest. To keep food fresh for hummingbirds, clean and sterilize feeders at least every three days when it’s hot outside or every week when it’s cold. Feeders should also be kept in the shade as much as possible.


If you hear a bird hit a window or find a dead bird under your window, you should take steps to prevent future harm. Sticky notes or other stickers placed every 2-4 inches along the window stop birds from trying to fly through the glass. Opaque vertical lines placed every four inches also work. Check out this great resource for more ideas: Simple Solutions for Collisions by Saenger and Klem

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dana Borham)

Invasive plants

While not directly harmful to birds, invasive plants force out native plants and reduce the quantity of berries and diversity of insects birds have to eat. Plants like Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), or Japanese Climbing Fern (Lygodium japonicum) are prolific in the landscape and should never be planted in a garden. Researching native shrubs, trees, and flowers before planting them in your garden prevents new exotic species from establishing and further disrupting the ecosystem. Native plants like Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) or American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) are beautiful additions to native gardens and attract hummingbirds and songbirds to your space. Learn more about native plants.

If you’re taking (or planning on taking) bird-friendly actions to support wildlife in our city, consider signing up for our free Bird-Friendly Spaces program!

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