Archived Story

Feeders busy with birds can be great entertainment

Published 7:00am Sunday, February 17, 2013

Column: Nature’s World, by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Things are nearly copacetic. If I had a million dollars for every time I’ve wished I had a million dollars, I’d be a millionaire. I sat around the table of infinite knowledge at The Inndigestion for lunch. We talked about animals. It was the consensus that brothers-in-law were the most useless of animals.

Darcy Sime of Alden took this photo of a starling.

We all agreed that the dog was the most loyal. Weasel said that the canine could be either the friendliest or unfriendliest of critters, depending upon its attitude. I protested. I think the skunk is the unfriendliest and it becomes even more so the friendlier it gets. I have no doubt that the Canada goose is the friendliest of creatures. Some of the boys were foolish enough to question my declaration.”

“Let me join them,” I say.

“Last fall, I was standing out in my field because I’m outstanding in my field, when a flock of Canadas flew overhead. And, do you know, every single one of those geese honked and waved. You can’t get much friendlier than that. I watched the Super Bowl at Weasel’s. I was surrounded by food and the TV provided the only light in the home. I mistakenly ate some Scrabble tiles instead of corn chips. I hope that doesn’t spell disaster.”


It wasn’t Rocky the Flying Squirrel

The cat, the shyer of the two, was at her post at my office window. She is capable of staring through the glass for long periods. Feeders busy with birds are entertainment as are visits by neighboring dogs and cats. A wild animal staggering through the yard is excitement incarnate.

This day, an accipiter, a bird-eating hawk, was hunting the yard and songbirds were hiding. Even though the view from her window might have been dull, the cat maintained her vigil.

Then, as I looked up from my book, I saw a squirrel jump from the roof, clipping a feeder on its way down.

Hokey smoke!

The cat perked up and gave me a look that said, “That’s why I look out this window.”


Q and A

Brad Edwin of Albert Lea spotted a large flock of wild turkeys and wondered if they gather in winter. Wild turkeys don’t mate for life or maintain pair bonds for even a season. Breeding is promiscuous and the toms (adult males) breed with as many hens as possible. Toms play no role in nesting or rearing young.

Courtship activity begins while the birds are concentrated in winter flocks, as early as February. The male’s primary courtship behaviors are gobbling and strutting. Turkeys don’t defend territories, but the flocks are organized in a dominance hierarchy or pecking order. Generally, adults are dominant over juveniles. Jakes (immature males) are capable of breeding, but may be intimidated by toms.

Turkeys can withstand extremely cold temperatures if they have food, but snowfall limits movement and blocks access to food. Fluffy snow is more bothersome to turkeys than crusted snow. Turkeys are unable to scratch through snow deeper than about six inches and cannot walk any distance through snow deeper than one foot. If powdery snow prevails, turkeys may remain on roosts until it crusts. They might be able to walk on crusted snow to food sources. Turkeys spend much time in the woodlands searching for acorns. They feed on waste grain in farm fields and on recycled grain where cow manure was spread. By winter, most jakes have separated from family flocks and formed their own, but it’s common for groups to flock together on prime feeding grounds. Toms, jakes and hens will feed together, but roost separately and generally exhibit some degree of segregation. Food issues can cause flock movements.

“Why do people dislike grackles?” Partly because of their habits, but I think much of the attitude is because of the Bambi effect. The Bambi effect states that animals that are perceived as visually appealing receive more consideration or sympathy than those deemed less attractive. Starlings and crows suffer from the same perception. All birds, just as all people, are beautiful if we take a good look.

Jan Wicklund of White Bear Lake writes, “Do cardinals travel as a group in the winter or do they just know the appointed hour to meet at our feeders?” After the breeding season, some cardinals remain on summer territories all winter long, while others join flocks of other cardinals and travel to other locations in search of food. A flock is constantly changing, with members being in one flock one day and in another the next. Flock size is determined by food availability, time of day and weather. Cardinals feed together more in the morning than any other time. A flock provides more eyes to find food and watch for predators. Why don’t all cardinals join flocks? No one knows. Why doesn’t everyone watch the Super Bowl?


Nature lessons

A peer-reviewed study authored by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that bird and mammal mortality caused by outdoor cats is much higher than had been reported, with annual bird mortality now estimated to be 1.4 to 3.7 billion and mammal mortality likely 6.9 to 20.7 billion individuals.

Marysville, Kan., bills itself as “Home of the Black Squirrels.” The “Black Squirrel Song” is the city’s official anthem: “Lives in the city park, runs all over town. The coal black squirrel will be our pride and joy many more years to come!” The black squirrels (and city mascots) have been there since the 1920s, when historians say they escaped from a traveling circus. The black squirrel is a melanistic subgroup of the eastern grey squirrel.

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross that is the world’s oldest known wild bird at age 62, has hatched a chick at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.


Thanks for stopping by

“Nature arms each man with some faculty which enables him to do easily some feat impossible to any other.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.” — William A. Ward


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at