Archived Story

Female cowbirds can lay up to 40 eggs per season

Published 9:00am Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nature’s World by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing? I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I was just driving by and thought I wouldn’t. I had a paper airplane kind of a morning recently. Folded and flying to who knows where. I flew to Houston for an aunt’s birthday party. She used to be a winter Texan. Now she’s a fall-winter-spring Texan. She’s a wealthy lady. She has the Goldilocks touch.

Everything she touches turns to gold. I got on the plane and sat down in the first seat I found open. I was tired. It’s a good drive to the airport. The flight attendant came and told me I couldn’t sit there. I asked why. She told me it was because it was first class. I told her I didn’t believe in the class system. She said that if I didn’t get out of the seat, she was going to get the pilot and have him talk to me. I said bring him on. I paid for a seat on the plane and this is the one that I chose.

Soon, the pilot showed up. He explained things to me in a way that I could understand.”

“Did he threaten to throw you off the airplane?” I say.

“No, he told me that the first-class section was flying to a different place.”


Spring things

It was an odd scene. There were Canada geese walking on the ice, waiting for it to melt so that they could begin the nesting process. That wasn’t an odd thing. What was odd was that near the big birds were some old Canada geese decoys, once used to lure geese into shooting range. The Canada geese were looking for love among the decoys.

I watched crows carry away bits of a squirrel that failed its crossing the road exam. Crows are good public servants in that they take away the things that we don’t like or want.

The seasons change and our natural world changes with it. I revel in each new thing. Migrating birds fly overhead. I offered a silent prayer in gratitude for the kind birds.

Mary Oliver wrote, “I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us.”

I breathe deeply in spring.


Q and a

Alice Kluver of Albert Lea asks how many eggs a bald eagle lays and what size entrance hole is best for a wren house. A clutch for a bald eagle is one to three eggs, with the average being two. The incubation time for a bald eagle averages 35 days. The entrance hole for the house wren should be 1 inch in diameter. If the size is expanded to 1 1/8-inch, it works for black-capped chickadees, too. An entrance hole of 1 1/4-inch also welcomes white-breasted nuthatches.

“What kind of a plant is the lucky four-leaf clover?” The four-leaf clover is an uncommon variation of one of the common three-leaved clovers. According to tradition, such leaves bring good luck to their finders. Each leaf is believed to represent something. The first is for faith, the second for hope, the third for love and the fourth for luck.

“I saw a red-tailed hawk on the ground. Its wings were spread out toward the ground. What was it doing?”

Hawks mantle prey after a kill. They do this by crouching and spreading their wings to form a shield that hides the prey item from other predators. The hawk might eat on the ground or carry the kill to a feeding spot, such as a fencepost or tree limb.


Nature lessons

For most of Minnesota, January is the snowiest month of the year on average. The greatest monthly snowfall was in March of 1965 when Collegeville reported 66.4 inches.

Brown-headed cowbirds are parasitic nesters. A female cowbird lays up to 40 eggs per season in a variety of other bird nests. Other species foster cowbird young.

The five waterfowl species eligible for depiction in the 2015-16 Duck Stamp that will be judged at the contest in September will be brant, northern shoveler, ruddy duck, Canada goose and red-breasted merganser. The all-time highest number of stamps sold in one year was for the 1971-72 Duck Stamp. That year, 2,445,977 were sold.

Hairy or downy woodpecker? Check the length of the bill compared to the head. If the bill is much shorter than the length of the head, the bird is a downy.


Thank you

For buying my book, “A Life Gone to the Birds.” It is available in the products section on or at Book World and Prairie Wind Coffee Shop.


Thanks for stopping by

“We must strive to touch the land gently and care for it as true stewards, that those who follow us and assess our records may see that our mark on the land was one of respect and love, not cruelty and disdain.”—Robert B. Oetting

“We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”—Roger Ebert


Do good.


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