Birds, squirrel trivia, and bunny bits | Opinion

I asked that as I listened to a catbird running through its jumbled repertoire. Horned larks sang high in the sky.

I saw fledged starlings on June 5. Most sources say they have 1-2 broods per year, but I suspect one is usually the case in Minnesota.

Mac Ehrhardt of Albert Lea asked how to attract goldfinches. He has clean feeders and fresh seeds. They like some security, so nyjer or black oil sunflower feeders placed 10-20 feet of trees, bushes or shrubs might help. They nest later than many birds, so they can be nomadic. I know people who have tied a yellow ribbon to a feeder to make it more visually attractive. Planting sunflowers, black-eyed susans, asters, coneflowers and native thistles is a “sale” sign to goldfinches. They like dandelions, but you might not need to plant those.

“How do I know if a young squirrel needs rescuing?” Juvenile squirrels look like miniature adults. If an uninjured squirrel has a fluffed-out tail and a body longer than 6 inches, not including the tail, it’s OK. Squirrels are independent at 10-12 weeks of age. But if it approaches humans or pets, consult a rehabilitator.

“What is a shitepoke?”Herons and egrets are called “shitepokes” or “shypokes.” Shitepoke refers to how it defecates when frightened. “Chalkline” is another nickname.

“Do ruffed grouse actually drum?” No, you’re thinking of Ringo Starr. The drumming sound is made when the grouse beats his wings against his chest, creating an air vacuum. The male performs this while standing on a drumming log, stone or dirt mound to establish territories.

“Why don’t I see many American black ducks?” The North American Breeding Bird Survey recorded a decline of 84% between 1966 and 2014. Farming, logging and urbanization contributed to the fall in numbers. Duck hunters exploited this duck for decades, shooting an estimated 800,000 per year in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1982, the Humane Society pursued a lawsuit that led to hunting restrictions. Records indicate about 115,000 per year are shot today. Black ducks are warier than mallards and less tolerant of disturbance. Mallards have contributed to the decline by hybridizing with black ducks. Black ducks are vulnerable to lead poisoning after eating lead shot.

“Why do some eggs hatch at the same time and others don’t?” In many birds, including most precocial species, incubation doesn’t begin until the last egg has been laid, resulting in all the eggs hatching within a few hours. Precocial species (eg ducks, geese and chickens) need to hit the ground a-running. Other birds begin incubation prior to laying the last egg of the clutch. This results in asynchronous hatchings separated by anywhere from a few hours to several days. Asynchronous hatching gives the first chicks a head start at attracting parental attention. Asynchronous hatching is a parental strategy for raising the largest number of offspring that food resources allow. Brood reduction by starvation routinely occurs in gulls and raptors, and is common in birds as diverse as cormorants, herons, egrets, terns and common grackles.

Eagles, cranes, pelicans and owls exhibit siblicide, in which the larger chick kills its sibling. Any egg more than one serves as insurance against the loss of the first egg from infertility, predation or damage. Nest predation could the evolution of asynchronous hatching to minimize the time that eggs and nestlings spend in a nest.

“How many broods do black-capped chickadees raise each year?” One.

Delores Hanna of Albert Lea asked how to keep barn swallows from nesting over the door of her home. Slick, smooth surfaces will prevent barn swallows from adhering their mud nests to a wall. Plastic cling could work. Blocking the area where birds want to nest with plastic netting or other objects might work. Leave no openings that would allow entrance to the desired area.

“Do rabbits dig burrows?” Eastern cottontail rabbits live within a 5-acre area their entire lives and don’t dig burrows. They crawl into the vacant burrows of other animals during cold or wet weather and to escape pursuit. They will huddle under woody vegetation or brush piles. About 30% of rabbits survive a winter. Cottontails have protruding eyes that give them nearly a 260-degree vision. They have a blind spot about 10 degrees wide directly in front of them.

“What tree smells like cat urine?” Called skunk spruce or cat spruce, the crushed needles of the white spruce give off a strong odor that reminds folks of a skunk or cat pee. Several other plants carry that odor.

Al Batt Al Batt of Hartland, Minnesota is a writer, speaker, storyteller and humorist. He is a columnist for “Bird Watcher’s Digest” and “Watching Backyard Birds,” and writes for a number of magazines and books. Al speaks to anyone who will listen. His mother thinks he’s a big deal. For more information visit


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