Q: I didn’t see any hummingbirds last summer, so is it worth putting up a feeder for them this year?
A: I would say it is always worth trying to attract hummingbirds. Some years I don’t see any of these busy little birds, other years there will be a female hovering at my nectar feeder and around the salvias blooming in my garden beds. Like most birds, they are quite picky about the habitat they choose for nest building and generally prefer to be near water, whether it is a stream, wetland or of a lake. It’s always so rewarding to find a pair of young hummingbirds (short beak, short tail, green back) exploring feeders and flowers in late summer, even if you hadn’t been aware of a nest. So, I advise you to try nectar feeders again.
Birds flying from windows
Q: I just pray that the cardinal who spent weeks breaking my windows last spring doesn’t come back this year. If he does, how can I get him to stop? It’s annoying and very messy.
A: Robins, cardinals, blue jays, bluebirds, chickadees and other species can be window breakers in the spring, when their high hormone levels make them very combative. A bird sees itself reflected in a window and confuses it with another bird trying to take over its territory. They can spend hours trying to chase it away, hitting the window again and again. They will relentlessly attack a shiny window, car mirror or hubcap – any reflective surface that has caught their eye. And while doing this, they often poop a lot, a sign of stress.
The behavior often ends after nesting is well underway and a bird’s hormones have subsided. But in the meantime, it’s no fun for owners or car owners. The key is to stop the reflectivity of any surface a bird is attacking, and the usual recommendation is to place cardboard outside the window the bird is attacking (or a sock on a car’s rear view mirror) . If the bird moves to another window, move the cardboard, which prevents it from seeing a reflection. Quite often, closing the curtains or blinds does not change this, since there will still be a period of reflection, at least part of the day.
The cardboard thing is actually a cuteness for the poor confused bird, which wastes energy and may even hurt itself in its relentless attacks.
No summer food?
Q: I feel the need to feed the birds in winter, but what about summer and autumn, when there is so much natural food for them?
A: Good question, and the answer depends on what you want to accomplish. Birds are able to feed without human assistance all year round except on the coldest winter days – this is when our feeders can make a difference to their survival. But if we don’t feed the birds, we won’t see many birds: the feeders bring the birds closer together so that we can observe them. So if your garden lacks feeders during the warm months when fruits and seeds are plentiful in the wild, you’ll miss seeing the parent birds grabbing a quick meal during nesting chores. And you won’t see parents bringing their young ones to the feeders to show them the ropes. I feed the birds all year round because I want to see birds every day.
Bald eagles versus golden eagles
Q: I send you photos taken by my trail camera that show two eagles fighting over a carcass in a field. They are so big and dark that I call them golden eagles, what do you think?
A: It’s easy to confuse young bald eagles with golden eagles. My first thought, looking at the photos, is that they show young bald eagles that have not yet moulted into adult plumage, with white heads and tails. Instead, they’re covered in dark feathers, which can be confusing. Just to understand, I sent your photos to Scott Mehus, the director of education at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota. He noted two features that clearly identify them as bald eagles, not walleyes: They have dark beaks to the tip, unlike the golden eagle’s tricolor beak. And beak size is also a good indicator: “If you have to ‘look’ to see a beak, then you’re probably looking at a golden eagle,” Mehus said. “But a bald eagle’s beak is just huge and really stands out – I tell people to think of Jimmy Durante.”
No Crows River
Q: I no longer see the long river of flying crows in the late afternoon, what’s up with that?
A: The behavior of crows changes with the seasons. In winter, they arrive from all corners of the metropolitan area to congregate at night in large communal dormitories. This helps protect them from predatory owls and it could also be a way for the group to share information about good food sources during the day. But in early spring, the nocturnal roosts break up as crow pairs leave to build nests and raise their young.
Is grape jelly acceptable?
Q: I know orioles like grape jelly, but when I put it out, other birds eat it too. Is it harmful for them?
A: Not at all (unless they fall into the container and get covered in jelly, which is why you should only offer it in shallow containers, like jar lids). It turns out that many songbirds, in addition to orioles, have taste receptors that allow them to enjoy sweets. These include house finches, goldfinches, chickadees, robins, grackles and many more. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are also known to enjoy a sip.
‘Dees bathing in the snow?
Q: After one of those heavy snowfalls in March, I saw a chickadee do something strange: it jumped into a clump of snow on some evergreen foliage and fluttered, before jumping and shaking all over the place. He did this over and over again, like he was taking a snow bath. Have you ever seen something like this?
A: I have seen a chickadee bathing in the snow on a tree branch before, but I think this behavior is quite rare. I checked with famed Duluth author and radio host, Laura Erickson, and she observed ‘dees bathing in the snow on several occasions, in clumps of snow on tree branches or in snow on gutters. These little birds are full of surprises.
Strange nesting site
Q: Reader Dot Landis sent in a tale of chickadees: “Your recent article on nesting chickadees reminded me of something I observed a few years ago. The neighbor had cut the horizontal post between a set of clothesline poles, leaving two open-ended pipes.. One day I noticed a chickadee fall down one of the open pipes. Over the next few weeks I heard squealing sounds coming from the pipe and it was clear they had a nest in there. I sometimes saw a parent bird fall, but I never saw one of them emerge, so I don’t know how they managed. I wondered. always wondered why the baby birds didn’t drown in the pouring rain and how they came out when it was time to leave.While this site may have provided some protection from predators, getting in and out certainly seemed difficult. “
A: I love this story because it shows how adventurous, adaptable, and athletic chickadees can be.
St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who volunteers with the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for a number of newspapers and magazines, can be reached at [email protected].