Colulmn: Nature’s World

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 28, 2006

Q and A

By Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

&8220;How are you doing?&8221;&160; I ask.

&8220;This week has been as messy as a soup sandwich.&160; It makes me want to put a goat in the barn.&160; I want to hold my breath until I turn blue.&160; I remember learning to hold my breath in swimming class.&8221;

&8220;I remember learning to hold my breath when I was near your gym locker,&8221; I say.

&8220;You must have bubbles in your think tank.&160; I spent yesterday with Gizzard Copperbottom.&160; He’s a good eater.&160; He takes a shopping cart into McDonald’s.&160; He’s not much of a driver.&160; The blinker has been on since he bought his car.&160; I remember when he used to go to the drive-in movies &045; we called it the passion pit &045; to get new speakers for his truck. Anyway, Gizzard is trying to sell some of his sister’s houseplants before she gets back from her vacation.&160; He told me about the different kinds of plants and even told me how to take care of them. I told him that if I bought one, I’d kill it within less than a week.&8221;

&8220;What did Gizzard say?&8221; I ask.

&8220;He said that in that case, I’d better buy two.&160; Well, I’d better get to town for the Hartland

Loafers’ Club meeting.&8221;

&8220;Crandall, I can’t help but notice you’re limping.&160; What happened?&8221;

&8220;Oh, nothing,&8221; replied my neighbor. &8220;It’s just an old basketball injury that acts up once in a while.&8221;

&8220;I didn’t know you played basketball,&8221; I say.

&8220;I don’t.&160; I hurt it last March when I lost $100 on the NCAA Championship game and put my foot through the television screen.&8221;

Q and A

&160; &8220;Can rabbits swim?&8221;&160; When Jimmy Carter was president, he was fishing one day and had to use an oar to fend off a swimming rabbit? Rabbits can and do swim, mostly to escape predators.

&160; &8220;How many different kinds of beetles are there?&8221;&160; There are 400,000 species in the world.

&160; &8220;Why are some Snow Geese blue?&8221;&160; For years, it was believed that Snow Geese and Blue Geese were separate species.&160; They are not.&160; They are polymorphic, meaning birds of the same species that appear in two or more color forms.&160; Some Snow Geese are mostly white.&160; Others are mostly blue-gray.

&160; &8220;What are some good plants to attract cardinals?&8221;&160; Dogwood, mulberry, cherry, elderberry, viburnum, sumac, hackberry and conifers.

&160; &8220;Is it a tadpole or a pollywog?&8221;&160; The terms are synonymous.&160; Both refer to a larval amphibian, particularly to a frog or toad larva with a rounded body, a long tail bordered by fins, and external gills that undergoes a metamorphosis to become an adult.

&160; &160;&8220;When is the best time of year to find morel mushrooms?&8221;&160;

Look for them when the lilacs start to bloom in early to mid-May.

&160; &8220;I see some birds taking a dust bath.&160; Why?&8221;&160; There could be several reasons why birds partake in this dusting.&160; Dust may dislodge mites or lice.&160; The dust may absorb excess oil that accumulates in the feathers.&160; It may improve the alignment of the barbs of the feathers and improve the insulating quality of the feathers.

&160; &8220;Where can I put up a wren house and have the best luck getting a tenant?&8221;&160; House Wrens prefer yards with brushy areas, wooded edges and dense shrubbery.

&160; &8220;How can I discourage grackles from visiting my feeders?”&160; Some feeders physically exclude large birds like the Common Grackles.&160; Small perches on tube feeders make it difficult for grackles to feed.&160; Placing a feeder inside a cage fashioned from 1.5-inch mesh or chicken wire will grackle-proof it.&160; Feeding safflower seed instead of sunflower seed might help.&160;

&160;&160;&8220;What tips can you give me to help identify a bird?&8221; Get a good field guide.&160; Note the size of the bird in relationship to familiar birds like the House Sparrow, robin or crow. Look to see if the bird has eye rings or wing bars. Observe the bird’s behavior.&160; Note the size and shape of the bill.&160; Notice the shape of the wings and tail.&160; Pay attention to the size of the head.&160; Making field notes helps.&160; If you have the ability to draw, it’s a gift in bird I.D.

&160; &8220;I occasionally see birds, with their wings and tails spread, lying in my yard on a sunny day.&160; They don’t appear to be hurt.&160; What are they doing?”&160; They are taking a sunbath.&160; Soaking up some rays allows a bird’s body to absorb ultraviolet radiation that stimulates vitamin D production.&160; The heat may also aid in parasite removal.

&160; &8220;I put mothballs around the garden in the hopes it would keep the rabbits out.&160; The grackles used the mothballs to preen their feathers.&160; Isn’t this odd?”&160; Anyone who is as odd as I am, should never say that anything or anyone else is odd.&160; The grackles likely are using the pungent mothballs to get rid of some ectoparasites or to help dissolve excess oils from their feathers.&160; This behavior is similar to anting in which a bird settles down in a nest of ants and grabs an ant with its bill and rubs the unfortunate ant on its feathers. The bird is wiping the pungent formic acid secretion from the ant’s body for the same reason as they would use the mothballs.&160; You are probably wondering what the ant gets out of all of this.&160; Not much.&160; Sometimes he gets eaten by the bird.

&160; &8220;How can I tell a Downy Woodpecker from a Hairy Woodpecker by sound?”&160; The Downy makes a flat &8220;pick&8221; sound as a call note.&160; The Hairy’s call note is a louder and sharper &8220;peek.”&160; the Downy makes a descending whinny, while the Hairy has a evenly-pitched whinny.

&160; &8220;Do robins listen for earthworms or look for them?&8221;&160; Robins use their eyes, not their ears, to find food.&160; It has to cock its head because the bird has a limited ability to move its eye in the vertical plane.

&160; &8220;How much do a bird’s feathers weigh?&8221;&160; Feathers typically comprise 4 to 12 percent of a bird’s weight.

&160; &8220;Does bathing in tomato juice remove the smell of a skunk?&8221;&160; What makes skunk spray smell are sulfur compounds.&160;&160; There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that tomato juice removes the smell.&160; The tomato juice likely overpowers the olfactory sense.


You deserve Alaska.&160; Please join me on a tour of Alaska on Aug. 10-17.

For more information on this delightful trip, call 373-4705 or 800-328-4298.

Thanks for stopping by

&160; &8220;Never let your head hang down.&160; Never give up and sit down and grieve.&160; Find another way.&160; And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.&8221;&160; &045; Satchel Paige

&160; &8220;It’s so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and then don’t say it.&8221;&160; &045; Sam Levenson



(Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at