Fairy Glen RSPB reserve. Foliage: young leaves back-lit, glow a vivid green. The Black Isle, Ross-shire, near Rosemarkie, Scotland

Bird behaviour frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions about bird behaviour.


Why do some birds swoop at people?

Wild birds sometimes make apparently unprovoked swoops at people. There are two common reasons for this behaviour.

The first is due to birds protecting their nest sites. Stories of this behaviour frequently make the news, especially where the birds are large, such as birds of prey or crows. 

Try to avoid nest sites during the weeks when birds are brooding. If you can't do this, then try wearing a hat, or carrying an umbrella - the bird will always swoop at the highest part of 'you', in this case the hat or umbrella.

The second reason, which is particularly common in gulls, is due to birds associating people with food. This is the result of people feeding the birds, which can increase the bravado of gulls and other birds and signal that 'people mean food'. Find out more about why birds swoop at people.

Why do birds sometimes attack my windows?

Some highly territorial birds will attack windows, car external driving mirrors, hub-caps and other reflective surfaces. They can see their own reflection on the surface, and thinking it is an intruding male, will try to attack it to defend its territory.

This behaviour is particularly prominent during the breeding season, but can also happen at other times of the year, particularly by birds such as robins and grey wagtails who hold winter territories. Find out more about birds and windows.

Why do tits eat the putty around my windows?

Members of the tit family frequently indulge in this activity in the late autumn and winter. The exact reason is not known. Birds may be able to hear or see insects in the wood if it is old. They may also have a liking for the linseed in the putty. 

It may be that the putty contains a mineral or other substance that is lacking in the birds natural diet, and it is trying to make up for the deficiency.

You may be able to deter them by painting over the putty, or by using a synthetic putty, such as Arbolite, which doesn’t contain linseed. Find out more about birds and windows.

It's summer, why have all the garden birds suddenly vanished?

This is a question we are regularly asked in the summer. Unless you are finding dead birds, then there is really nothing to worry about. In late summer, birds are nearing the end of a period of hectic activity: the breeding season.

Many of them will go through a period of moult to renew worn or juvenile plumage. While they are losing their flight feathers, they are vulnerable, so conceal themselves from predators.

They seldom sing, and no longer need to defend territory, so seem to disappear. Late summer and early autumn is also a time of plenty for birds. The natural food supply is abundant. Birds will move from their breeding areas into farmland, orchards or woodland for instance, to feed on grain, berries and weed seed.

They can be absent from gardens until we get the first autumn frosts so late summer is a good time to clean feeders and bird tables, ready for the birds’ return. A 10% disinfectant solution is suitable but thoroughly rinse any feeders before using them again.

Water containers should be scrubbed out, and wooden tables can be treated with a water-based preservative to protect them. Consider hanging the feeders and placing the bird table in different areas and do ensure that they are cleaned regularly. This will help to reduce the spread of disease amongst the birds visiting your feeding station.

How can I stop gulls from nesting in my roof?

All birds nests are protected by law, so once a gull has made a nest, it cannot be removed until the young have fledged. If nesting gulls are an ongoing problem, deterrents can be used to prevent them from building nests in the first place.

A simple system of wires on a frame (30 cm deep) can be fitted into the area the birds have used, for example, between the chimney pots. This prevents gulls from landing and folding their wings. On flat roofs, wires can be stretched and held in place with brackets, again 30cm high, though this becomes difficult if the roof is large.

Why do crows fly at other birds and attack them?

This is called mobbing and many birds use this to defend themselves or their young.  They don’t actually harm the predator, but will make alarm calls and fly at it to distract it. 

The target is usually a bird of prey, but sometimes other birds, such as herons, can be mistaken for predators because of their size. Finf out more about mobbing.