Ask SIB: How to Keep Ants off the Hummingbird Feeder

Is there any way to keep ants out of my Hummingbird feeders? There is a little cup in the middle that is supposed to keep them out but nonetheless they crawl in through the ports, then get trapped and most of them drown.

Melodie Murphy

To keep ants off of a hummingbird feeder, you need to create a water baffle. If your feeder is a hanging feeder, they sell them wherever you get your feeder supplies. Essentially,  you are placing a small reservoir of water between the hook and the feeder. The ants cannot get passed the water. This needs to be kept full.

Bob Mercer

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

Ask SIB: How Do I Keep Squirrels Out of My Feeders?

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

I’m having a problem with pesky bossy squirrels that are cleaning out my bird feeders taking the great majority of the seed. I read that one can add cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper into the seed before putting it into the feeders and that this will deter the squirrels but not the birds (as they do not have taste receptors for capsaicin). As the bird expert, do you know whether or not that adding the pepper to the feeders will not hurt the birds and if not, approximately how much one needs to add?

Leslie Baylis

Quick response : Hi there!  You are correct – In fact you can buy suet with red pepper at Wild Birds and I can attest it works that squirrels don’t like and birds don’t mind. But let’s ask our “resident naturalist,” Bob Mercer, to see if he has any more details.

Nancy Brown

Nancy, you are right. Mammals do not like red pepper and birds don’t react to it. Some people think it is cruel for the squirrel, especially if they rub their eyes. I think a little shock therapy goes a long way. As to the amount, that is another question. The common wisdom is birds can tolerate 20,000 parts per million (PPM) while mammals can tolerate more like 20 PPM. So, you do not need a lot. One source, which is totally anecdotal suggested a ¾ cup for a 40 lb. bag of seed. Squirrels are quick learners, so if you do not get it strong enough the first time, who knows how they will behave. One word of caution! Red Pepper is a problem for us also. It can be a skin irritant and if you get it in your eyes, it will most likely involve a trip to the hospital, especially if you are working with large quantities. Do not shake the pepper flakes into your bird feeder on a windy day! Mix it inside.

My suggestion if you want to go this route is to try a ½ tsp of either Cayenne pepper or Red Pepper flakes in each feeder and see if it works. If it does, you should be able to reduce to ¼ tsp or even eliminate adding the pepper flakes once the squirrels are trained to stay away, repeating the process only when they catch on that you are no longer using the flakes.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Thanks, both Nancy and Bob. I put some cayenne pepper in the feeder on Wednesday afternoon and saw the squirrels yesterday (Thursday) but not up on the feeders- they were nosing around on the ground. However, today they’re not even under the feeders so I think this approach worked. Thank you both for your help. Now, maybe you have some wise advice about the deer eating the plants…

Leslie Baylis

Ask SIB: Nesting Anhingas

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

Breeding Anhinga pair vs Great Egrets – photo by Valerie Doane

I’ve seen a male and female Anhinga, I assume a mating pair, on Jenkins Point Road in the lagoon rookery on the right.  You know better than I that there are only a few Egret nests in that rookery.  I noticed on several different visits over the last 10 days or so that the Anhinga pair was sometimes sitting on a nest and sometimes they were not and sometimes they were in a big time squabble with a pair of Great Egrets over the nest!  I have photos of the squabble on June 1st.  I swear the Egrets and Anhinga pair were fighting over the nest!

I was wondering about a few things and thought perhaps you might have some insight on the following:

1.     Do these two species often steal each other’s nest? 

2.     Do Anhinga’s typically nest in the same rookery as Egrets?

3.     Isn’t it late in the season for chicks to hatch? 

Valerie Doane

So for some quick answers, Nancy Brown responded as follows (be sure to “Read More” to see the answers and more photos!):

Continue reading “Ask SIB: Nesting Anhingas”

Ask SIB … What can I do for Starling invasion?

We often receive questions about birds from our members and residents of Seabrook Island. This week, Carl recently sent us this question:

Starlings have taken over my feeders. They discovered it about a month ago. Now they arrive each morning and occupy every feeding slot for hours, consuming lots of birdseed and depriving the finches, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, wrens, sparrows, etc. With the starlings dominating the feeder, I doubt that we will see painted buntings this year.
Will these starlings move on or is this the new normal?
Any suggestions?

Carl, Deer Point
European Starlings at Feeder – Birdwatching HQ

Joleen Ardaiolo provided the following response:

This is a great question and one that most people who have bird feeders have needed an answer to at one time or the other, especially with various species of “bully birds.” I have had problems in the past with American Crows, Boat-tailed Grackles, and even Blue Jays at the end of their nesting season. Your question comes at an interesting time because at present, I am  having the same issue with Red-winged Blackbirds.

Because I have had problems in the past with bully birds, I had already made some adjustments to the feeders I use.  First, I decided to use smaller tube feeders. These have smaller perches that make it more difficult, even though not impossible, for large birds to perch on comfortably to eat. If the large bird does land on this feeder it won’t stay long. You might think that you will need to fill these feeders more often, but if you just have smaller birds eating at these feeders, you probably won’t be filling them more than once a week. Also, leaving seed in a tube feeder much longer will result in the seed at the bottom going rancid.

I also have used cages on my tube feeders when certain bully birds were being aggressive. These allow only small birds to get close to the feeder. This might be a great option for Painted Buntings since I have read that they are not group feeders. You could put out a couple small caged tube feeders that only contain millet, their seed of choice. Perhaps feeding inside the cage will make them feel more protected.

As for the other birds that you want to attract, I have found that using a tray feeder with a dome top works really well. The dome top is adjustable to only allow in the size bird that you want to feed. I have mine adjusted to allow in birds up to Northern Cardinal size and fill it with sunflower and safflower seed to make everyone happy.

One of the staff members from Wild Birds Unlimited also suggested I bring in my feeders for a few days to encourage the offending birds to go elsewhere for their snack. I read that European Starlings are ground feeders, so eating from your feeders might be more opportunistic than natural for them. I have seen flocks of Starlings on the ground at the Equestrian Center and farm fields so they might just need to be urged to move on.

I am hopeful that these suggestions will help, but I would also like to encourage anyone else who might have had success with getting rid of bully birds at their feeders to respond to this post.

If you have a question for SIB, either use this link or send an email to

Ask SIB … What is that Bird?

We often receive questions about birds from our members and residents of Seabrook Island. This week, Jenni sent us an email along with some photos.

I’ve been watching the birds at my feeders for few years now and saw something new today! I’ve attached some photos of this beautiful white mystery bird. Thanks for your help! 

Jenni, Oyster Catcher Court

After reviewing the photos, we suspected it might be a leucistic Brown-headed Cowbird, since it is hanging with the Brown-headed Cowbirds, and it’s shape certainly looks like one. We asked for input from SIB member Bob Mercer, Retired Director/Naturalist, Silver Lake Nature Center, Bristol, PA. He responded, “If it were not for the few smudged of brown, I would say albino Cowbird as it has the red eye. Because of the brown, I agree with your assessment.”

After letting Jenni know, she responded, “Thank you! The crowd passed through again this morning, and the white bird was hanging with the Cowbirds. I did notice they have the same mannerisms when eating, same size, same tail feathers. So much fun! “

Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal—which causes white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes. This is the same thing that causes the coloration of the Piebald White-tailed Deer on Seabrook Island.

To learn more about this and other types of “unusual” birds, visit the Project Feederwatch website.

If you have a question for SIB, either use this link or send an email to

Birds of a Feather Plus Friends Flock Together

Question:  The American Robins recently have arrived in flocks to my yard.  At the same time, Cedar Waxwings also came in mass.  All summer, I saw only occasional Blue Jays but their color is now interspersed with the Robins and Waxwings.  Why are these birds normally seen individually or not at all and suddenly they are here at the same time?  Submitted by Judy Morr

American Robin – Ed Konrad

It is not uncommon to see different species of birds flocking together in the fall and winter. At this time winter birds work together to find food that is sparse compared to the abundance available during the warmer months. The more eyes, the better for locating food sources. Recently, during one of the Early Morning Bird Walks at Caw Caw we noticed Cedar Waxwings and American Robins together in trees feeding on berries.

Cedar Waxwing – Ed Konrad

These two species are apparently common traveling partners in the fall and winter. Dozens of birds would fly up in mass to the next tree that looked promising for a better feed. There is no competing when there is a bounty of berries. It is interesting that Cedar Waxwings are social birds year round whereas American Robins know the benefits of grouping together during the cooler months, but become territorial in the spring during nesting season. For more information check out Robins and Waxwings in Winter and Summer Comparing Behaviors.  Agricultural fields, which are abundant around John’s Island, are another area that you might see mixed flocks feeding on grain and seeds remaining after the harvest. 

A single bird in a flock is also safer because there are many other birds to look out for predators, such as hawks or owls, as he eats or rests. A hawk cannot easily pick off a single bird crowded with others as they perch on power lines or in trees. I’m sure most people have noticed a hawk being chased away by a swarm of smaller birds. Interestingly you may also see a couple of Blue Jays together with Robins on a lawn during winter months. Blue Jays may raid a Robin’s nest for eggs or hatchlings during nesting season, but are more interested in acorns, seeds, and insects in fall and winter and are excellent alarms for incoming predators. 

Frigid nights will also bring birds together. A tight knit flock roosting in trees at night offers a greater defense from the cold winter weather. BirdNote, a wonderful short daily podcast, recently released 61 Tons of Robins! about how many American Robins were counted in Florida roosting together at night. 

So, it appears that birds engage in activities that are beneficial to their survival. Large numbers of birds and even different species will flock together in fall and winter when they are more vulnerable to the elements in order to locate food, keep warm, and stave off predators.  

Submitted by: Joleen Ardaiolo

Photos by: Ed Konrad

Ask SIB … Why do I hear the Great Horned Owl in the Fall?

Great Horned Owl – Ed Konrad

Question:  For a few weeks each spring and again in the fall we hear Great Horned Owls calling back and forth out here on Jenkins Point. I’ve seen them on our roof ridge and chimney. The rest of the year we don’t hear them at all. Spring could be breeding season but why in the fall? Do these owls migrate? Submitted by Andy Allen

Answer:  Great Horned Owls are resident birds who maintain some type of territory through the year. Singing in the fall probably identifies the resident’s ownership and tells new young to go somewhere else… Neat birds – I slept in a chicken coop next to two young owls for a summer in New England. We didn’t bother each other as long as I stayed on my side of the wall… The joys of working with Audubon! Response from Carl Helms

 Thanks to Andy for the question, Carl for the response and Ed for the photo!

Ask SIB … American Robins

Once again, this winter there is a lot of discussion about American Robins.  Below is a series of Q&A’s to share with all our readers.

American Robin – Ed Konrad

Question:  We’ve seen a flock of American Robins in the edge of scrub on the north side of Jenkins Point Road. Isn’t it early for them to be coming thru? We usually don’t see them until late February. (Submitted by: Andy Allen) Continue reading “Ask SIB … American Robins”

Ask SIB: Project FeederWatch Q&A

Nearly a dozen SIB members are participating in the 2017-2018 Project FeederWatch program.  During a seminar held earlier this week, one of the members asked a great question:

Q:  My backyard is legally ended by a tidal creek that flows in to a marsh behind my neighbor’s house.  The neighbor has a dock.  I know I don’t count birds in flight but if there are birds perched on the dock or in the marsh, should I include them in my counts?  Also, if there are birds scavenging at low tide in the mud of the creek or swimming by on high tide, should they be included?

Since this is an important questions as many of us live on or near marsh, beach, rivers, etc, Judy Morr sent the question to Project Feeder.  Below is their answer:

A: It gets a little tricky counting near water. If any of the birds are attracted to something you provide (feeder, birdbath, plants, stocked fish in a pond etc…), please include them in the count. If you think the birds would be at that location regardless of anything you provide, please exclude them. For example, if a bird is foraging at the tide line or resting at the dock, I would exclude it. However, if ducks come up into your yard to forage, I would include them. I hope that helps.

 Thank you for FeederWatching,

Chelsea Benson
Project Assistant
Project FeederWatch
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca, NY 14850

If you are interested to learn more about Project FeederWatch, please read our BLOG or visit their website  and join today!

Submitted by:  SIB Communication Team

Ask SIB: What to do if You Find a Bird with a Band?

The Sidebottom children, from left to right Reves (5), Ella (5) and Wesley (4), holding the deceased first year Painted Bunting.

On September 3, 2017, SIB received an email from Richard Sidebottom. 

“We live in Charleston and are out here often. My in-laws (the kids grandparents) are Jerry and Jenny Reves, who have had a house here since 1995. Jerry is the former Dean at MUSC and writes the wellness column in The Seabrooker. 

We arrived out here from town yesterday and the kids saw a dead yellow and black/gray bird on the deck and also noticed the identification band around its leg. My kids enjoy looking at the nature guides (including Audubon / Peterson’s Field Guide) that their grandparents have at the house, so we tried to identify it. We think it may be a female Painted Bunting. It occurred to me this morning as we were trying to figure out how to bury it that we should ask whether someone should know about the band. The band says:  OPEN 2721 ABRE, 24834


Richard Sidebottom

The two photos below were attached:

Nancy Brown, the SIB Communications Chair, corresponded with Richard and provided the USGS link to report banded birds so he could officially report the condition of the bird.

Nancy also sent a note to Aaron Given, Wildlife Biologist on Kiawah Island, who manages a bird banding station on Kiawah.  As she suspected, Aaron responded:  “We banded it on 8/26/17 at the Captain Sam’s site on the west end of Kiawah.  This is a hatch-year bird because of the buffy edging on the wing coverts therefore the sex is unknown. The most likely cause of death was by window strike.” 

When you report a banded bird to the USGS, you will receive a certificate of appreciation, similar to the one below sent to the Sidebottom family.

USGS Certificate of Appreciation

If you missed any of SIB’s other blogs about banded birds, you can find them by searching on the “Banding” category, or click on this link.

Read the article below to learn more about finding birds with leg bands:

Continue reading “Ask SIB: What to do if You Find a Bird with a Band?”