Archived Story

It’s not a bird’s job to entertain, but they still do

Published 6:51am Sunday, April 21, 2013

Column: Nature’s World, by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I had a depressing thought today. I just realized that I’m the same age as Rupert and Roberta Hill.”

“So? What’s the big deal about that?” I wonder aloud.

Norm Emerson of St. James took this photo of a leucistic redpoll.
Norm Emerson of St. James took this photo of a leucistic redpoll.

“I’ll tell you. That means that I’m as old as the Hills. My godson Throgmorton is looking for work. He’ll have a tough time finding a job as good as his previous one. He had the world by the tail as he sat behind his big desk. Now he’s eating ketchup sandwiches like the rest of us. His last employer provided a high salary, six weeks vacation and paid all the premiums for his full health coverage, five years salary for life insurance, disability and dental coverage. He got a months sick leave, a company car, a membership to an exclusive health club and a free cellphone. He wanted more benefits, but when your wishes come true, you should stop rubbing the lamp.”

“And now he’s back to the larval stage. Why did he ever leave that job?” I say.

“Oh, the company went bankrupt. His old boss did give him a letter of recommendation.”

“That’s nice,” I add.

“I saw it. It read, “Throgmorton worked for our company for 11 years. When he left us, we were very satisfied.”



Spring robins singing, “Merrily, verily. See,” put a spring in my step. We have robins in Minnesota all winter, but I typically see new robins migrating to the state in early March. The bulk of the robin migration northward follows the 37-degree isotherm. Female robins return after the males and get right to the task of nesting as the males have settled most territorial disputes by then.

I watched a blue jay fly into a feeder containing peanuts in a shell. The jay picked up one peanut after another weighing each to find the best nut for eating.

It isn’t a bird’s job to entertain me, but it does.


A healing hand

Les Honstad of Freeborn told me that a chickadee flew hard into the window of his house. His 9-year-old granddaughter, Audrey, held the motionless bird gently in her hands. The tiny bird appeared dead. Suddenly, the bird struggled to its feet. It stood, looked around and flew away. Les said the look on his happy granddaughter’s face was priceless.



Alice Kluver of Albert Lea spotted swans with neck collars and inquired as to the significance. Red, green and yellow collars are most often used for trumpeter swans, while gray, black and blue collars are typically used for tundra swans. Trumpeters have three characters with one letter (L##, #L#, ##L). Tundra Swans have four-character combinations with the letter first (L###), or three-character combinations with two letters (LL#, L#L, #LL). There may be a few trumpeters remaining from an old banding protocol that had yellow or black collars with four-character combinations of LL##. Marked swans may be reported to the USGS Bird Banding Lab by emailing information of your sighting to The lab has an online form to report marked birds,

Randy Chirpich of Fairmont asked if bald eagles eat coots. Coots (mudhens) furnish a favorite food supply for the eagles. An eagle is capable of catching a coot on the wing, but more often the coot is taken off the water or forced to dive repeatedly until it becomes exhausted and can be easily captured.

Marta Herbranson of Hartland asked what to feed robins stranded in a snowstorm. In winter, robins eat berries and fruits from shrubs, trees and vines. Offer them fresh or frozen fruit such as chopped apple slices, raisins, cranberries, blueberries, grapes, strawberries, raspberries and cherries placed on the ground. Robins might feed on suet pellets, mealworms and bread. They enjoy heated birdbaths. Robins aren’t accustomed to accepting our handouts, so squirrels and other birds might find the food first.

A board member of the Nebraska Nature Conservancy asked me about the large ridges on the tops of the bills of American white pelicans. Pelicans mature enough to reproduce develop nuptial tubercles (fibrous plates) on their upper bills. Once the pelicans begin feeding chicks, the tubercles fall off and the birds develop black feathers on the back of the head.


Nature lessons

The city of Cape Coral designated the burrowing owl the official city bird.

Bluebirds can see their tiny prey items from 60 feet or more away. The eastern bluebird sings, “Cheer, cheerful charmer.”

Birdhouse entrance holes should face away from prevailing winds because the birds have no doors to close. The houses shouldn’t be too close to feeders and there is no need for perches. Predators love perches.

Those raggedy figures in cornfields are called scarecrows, but grackles are a bigger threat to corn. They eat ripening corn as well as corn sprouts.

Scuds are ragged low clouds that move rapidly beneath another cloud layer.


Customer comments

Floyd Alwin of New Ulm told me that when he was a boy, he and his father walked to town. That took most of a day. On one of those walks, a pair of goldfinches fluttered along with them. The birds sang merrily as the men walked. Floyd didn’t know why the birds stayed close, but he appreciated their company. I love seeing the goldfinches change from their olive plumage into yellow feathers in the spring. I may not be rich, but these tiny birds give me gold each year.

Annette Perry of New Ulm said that a friend of hers maintains that a mourning dove’s call is “I love you, you, you.” That’s a great way to put words to the dove’s song that sounds to me to say, “Hula-hoop, hoop, hoop.”


Thanks for stopping by

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.” — E.B. White

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” — Mitch Albom



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