Birds drawn away from feeders after snowmelt due to natural food

Published 9:00 am Sunday, March 29, 2015

A starling looks for spring. We see it in the starling’s bill turning yellow. - Al Batt/Albert Lea tribune

A starling looks for spring. We see it in the starling’s bill turning yellow. – Al Batt/Albert Lea tribune

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I woke as a flawless individual. Then things started going wrong and I began to look like someone who’d found a Band-Aid in his meatloaf. I believe that children are our future and that terrifies me. I’ve decided that I’m not going to do anything I haven’t done.  I don’t want to upset the sequence of history. I could put all of my investments on a $1 bill without crowding George Washington. Life isn’t fair. We aren’t all in the same boat. Some are in a yacht. I’m just happy to be able to come up with the coins needed to buy a new winter coat. My old coat let in more cold than it kept out. I nearly lost it at a church lutefisk feed. I think you know my position on food. I finished eating a lifetime supply of butter and found a fellow putting on my coat. ‘Excuse me,’ I said, “but do you happen to be a Mr. Crandall, heir to the Crandall family debt?’”

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“What did he say?” I say.

“He growled, ‘I most certainly am not.’ I told him, ‘Oh, well, I am and that’s my coat you’re putting on.’”


The miracle of nature

The wind whispered stories. The sky flared pink. I thought it might rain, but it didn’t.

John Updike said that if he could be any animal, he’d be a turtle, because he liked the sound of rain on a roof. If I could be any animal, I’d be a crow. I’ve always wondered what skunk tastes like.

A song sparrow sang on my birthday. A kestrel did a fixed-wing dive at a perched crow. It did little more than irritate the crow. The kestrel looked like an oversized mosquito, filled with ferocity. A red-tailed hawk made an attempt to capture a rock pigeon feeding on the ground. The raptor was unsuccessful.

Friends reported eagle nests along lakes not far from where I live. Bald eagles have been nesting in my home county for a good number of years, but it still seems to be a miracle whenever I see one.


If the sandman used this sand, there wouldn’t be much sleeping

I visited the Apostle Islands, an archipelago of 22 islands scattered across more than 720 square miles of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. I listened to the singing sands of Julian Bay on Stockton Island. Some say the musical sands burp. It sounded like squeaking to me. Other dunes and beaches offer similar natural concert halls. Charles Darwin wrote about them. Marco Polo wrote this about his encounter with singing sands in the Gobi Desert, “…fill the air with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, and also of drums and the clash of arms.” The Mojave and Sahara deserts have dunes that sing.



Harlan Lutteke of Alden asked about the cause of the near disappearance of birds from feeders after snowmelt. It’s the availability of natural foods that draws them away. I raised chickens for many years. They were cooped up all winter. In the spring, I opened the henhouse door. I was nearly trampled by chickens. They loved being outside again. They ignored the food I gave them and went in search of what they could find. Maybe birds have that same feeling of freedom after being cooped up all winter.

“Why are robin eggs blue?” That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’ve asked robins and their silence made it apparent that they weren’t sure either. Some scientists believe that the blue camouflages eggs in the nest so that predators are less likely to find them. Other scientists think the blue color protects eggs from harmful sunrays.

“What is upwind and downwind?” Wind direction is the direction the wind is coming from. For example, a west wind is a wind blowing from west to east. Upwind is the direction the wind is coming from. If the wind is blowing from the west then the upwind direction is toward the west and the downwind direction is toward the east. If a person is moving upwind, they are moving against the wind and if a person is moving downwind, they are moving with the wind.

“What is the biggest owl in the world?” I used to think it was the Eurasian eagle-owl. Some sources say it is the great gray owl, which can be of great length. The largest owl is likely the Blakiston’s fish-owl, which makes its home in old growth forests surrounding streams and rivers in Russia, China and Japan. These owls are stand 2 1/2 feet tall, have 6-foot wingspans and can weigh more than 10 pounds. In comparison, a great horned owl typically weighs 2 to 4 pounds.


A hawk in the news

A red-tailed hawk broke into a Kansas City man’s home recently. It had no prior record of breaking and entering.

The hawk broke a window, knocked everything off a bedroom dresser, ripped curtains, knocked pictures from walls, tipped over a laundry basket and defecated on everything. The raptor ended up in worse shape than the house. The professionals at the Lakeside Nature Center spent weeks nursing the hawk back to health. The problem was the bird’s damaged feathers. They needed to decide whether to wait 6 months for the hawk’s tail feathers to grow back or replace them with prosthetics. They took feathers from another red-tailed hawk and attached them. They glued on a feather transplant. The feathers will be replaced in a molt. The good news is that the bionic bird has been released back into the wild. Meanwhile, the homeowner’s insurance company deals with an interesting claim.


Thanks for stopping by

“It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life, it’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power!” — Robert Kiyosaki

“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” — Colette


Do good.


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