A new booklet has been published by Bird Watcher’s Digest Press.
The Backyard Bird Watcher’s Answer Guide is the latest in a series of 12 booklets the Digest publishes. At 32 pages, it’s not exactly a definitive compendium of questions, but it’s an amusing as well as informative addition to any bird enthusiast’s bookshelf.
It’s also well illustrated, with appealing photographs that add to the understanding of how certain species look, flock, and behave.
For example, there’s a rare colour photograph of a partially albino female northern cardinal. If I (or any of you) spotted a bird like this, we’d be thrilled. I remember finding an albino squirrel (albino black squirrel sounds odd, doesn’t it?) in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto many years ago. Such albino strains are rare and if you can get a photograph, it’s an added bonus for sure.
Here are some of the questions and answers found in this book. I’m sure you’ll find they echo some of your own.
Q: I have often noticed that when little birds come through my yard in small flocks I hear lots of cheeping that isn’t like their regular songs. Are these birds actually talking to each other? F.H., Indiana
A. The cheeping you describe s a chorus of short, single, high-pitched notes uttered at intervals by each member of the flock. These calls make locating the bird extremely difficult for predators — and bird watchers — but allow the birds to keep track of flockmates without having to watch them. The birds can move together in the same direction while they keep their eyes open for danger and for food.
Q: Every spring I have a bird that sings not only throughout the day, but all night long. I love the sounds of birds, but this drives me nuts! This bird has many different songs. What is it and what can I do about it? B.H. California
A. Your bird is most likely a northern mockingbird. Don’t worry, male mockingbirds perform this nocturnal singing only in spring, during a full moon. I suggest running an electric fan (to create a buffer of sound) and using your earplugs on nights when the mockingbird is singing. Having a mocker around is a good thing — you might even consider yourself lucky!
(I might add that Pontiac residents who have the northern mockingbird visit their gardens come summer are particularly lucky. Northern mockingbirds are not common here: bird specialist Tony Beck was delighted and surprised to hear that one regularly visits our Steele Line farm. At least one other Pontiac resident that I know, who lives near Thorne Lake, has seen one at their farm. Do you have a mockingbird? Let me know if you do.)
Q. How far from trees and plants should a birdbath be placed? H.N., Minnesota
A. Near enough to offer shelter for the birds but far enough away that the droppings of perched birds don’t fall into the water.
Q: Is the red dye that is found in premixed hummer solutions bad for the birds? L.M., Maine
A.: Although there is no conclusive evidence that red food dye is harmful to hummingbirds, this chemical additive is not necessary in their feeding solution. Many commercial brands of solution contain the coloring, which is meant to be attractive to hummingbirds and to shopping bird watchers (brightly coloured flowers are nature’s way of attracting a foraging humming bird). Red feeder parts (which most hummer feeders have) or a bright red ribbon hung near the feeder can be just as attractive as red-dyed solution.
(Note that many shops including some in the Pontiac sell hummingbird feeders in the shape of raspberries, apples and strawberries. These “fruit” are red in colour so you don’t need to add chemical dye to the solution. Why support products that use unnecessary dyes?)
Q. What is the best sugar-to-water ratio to use for feeding hummingbirds?
A. Four parts water to one part sugar (a 4:1 ratio) has been shown to be the closest to the sucrose content of natural flower nectar. Concentrations stronger than this (3:1 ratio, and stronger) re readily consumed by hummers, but no scientific evidence exists regarding the potential helpful or harmful effects to the birds.
(Note: White table sugar is the only sweetener you ought to be using, according to my research, because it is this product that most closely resembles natural flower nectar. Avoid molasses, honey and other sweeteners. The jury’s out on whether hummingbird’s bills are being negatively affected by feeding stations. A few Pontiac residents have asked me this question, but I have no information about it.)
Q: How often must I clean my bird feeders and what should I use? K.D. Colorado
A. Every two to four weeks, clean and disinfect your feeders. Use hot, soapy water and a rag on plastic models and a soft-bristled brush on wooden feeders. After removing all debris, rinse the feeder with clear water. Mix one capful of liquid chlorine bleach for each gallon of tepid warm water in a bucket, or tub large enough to immerse the feeder for one minute. Let it dry and refill it. Note: adding bleach won’t necessarily increase disinfection but may damage feeders.
(I’ve included this Q&A because of the threat to our wild birds from salmonella this winter. Be advised that if you continue feeding birds over summertime, that you should still clean the feeders. Don’t want to bother? Then take down your feeders. There’s far more food available in summer than in winter, after all. )
These and other questions make a fun and informative read. If you’re interested in purchasing it or in reviewing the other booklets in the series, go to the website at www.birdwatchersdigest.com or contact Bird Watcher’s Digest Press toll-free at 1-800-879-2473.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer and author who telecommutes from her electronic cottage north of Quyon, Québec.