Birds fly together to help each other ward off possible predators

Published 10:00 am Sunday, May 8, 2016

A wood duck enjoys a swim. - Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

A wood duck enjoys a swim. – Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I just watched a great show on PBS about Alexander Graham Kowalski, the first telephone Pole. I had to pick Weasel up at work. His car wouldn’t start. That parking lot was a zoo. It was like a race for drivers with no sense of direction. I was nearly run over in the stampede. I asked Weasel what the speed limit was in the parking lot. He told me that it depended if you were coming to or leaving work. I spent yesterday helping Weasel fix his car. That makes me feel like I’m a babysitter. Weasel tends to be cranky and pouty. When he dies, Weasel’s family is going to have to hire pallbearers. Weasel was all bruised and battered. I figure that he’d lipped off to the wrong guy. He told me that he’d been thrown from a horse. His foot had become caught in the stirrups and he’d been dragged for a long time. If he hadn’t been freed, we’d have been hiring pallbearers.”

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“Holy smokes! How did he get free?” I say.

“Eventually, the manager of the store saw what was going on and unplugged the machine and gave Weasel his quarter back.”


Nature stories

I’ve spent time on cruise ships. I enjoy the “too much” food. I like most of the entertainment. Some of the comedians are wonderful. Ships and giggles. I led an Alaska cruise for a group that included a lady in a wheelchair who’d decided that she’d remain on ship at one port. I didn’t want her to feel deserted, so I stayed with her. We watched whales diving deep near the ship. Seeing the flukes, the triangular tails of whales, made for incredible sights. Her smile assured me that it had been time well spent.

I enjoy reading. I read in my sleep. I love books, as my many bookshelves show. I have a plethora of field guides. More than I need. Fewer than I want. Books are patient. They will wait for me.

Rich Armstrong of Sedona, Arizona, told me that he keeps a yard list of birds seen on his property. He counts birds that have either visited his property or were sighted from his place. His list includes common black hawk, white-throated swift, vermilion flycatcher and black phoebe. He was visiting a friend’s house when he saw a zone-tailed hawk soaring overhead. The zone-tailed hawk looks similar to a turkey vulture in flight and often flies with vultures. It’s speculated that the hawk mimics vultures and uses its similarity to surprise prey that wouldn’t hide from vultures. Rich did what any reasonable lister would do. He ran to his property, getting there huffing and puffing, but just in time to catch a glimpse of the hawk flying overhead. He added the raptor to his yard list.



“Why do blackbirds flock together?” Birds of a feather flock together. There is safety in numbers and more eyes help find food and spot predators.

Flocks of flying birds make it difficult for hawks to capture one when the flock closes ranks to form a mass that a hawk is unwilling or unable to penetrate without being injured.

“What preys upon red-headed woodpeckers?” Their predators include Cooper’s hawks, eastern screech owls, foxes, peregrine falcons, raccoons, squirrels and snakes.

“How many babies does a chipmunk have?” The female gives birth to a litter of four or five young in the summer. The babies are born hairless, blind and helpless.

“Were any other birds considered as the state bird other than the loon?” Various sources reported that the pileated woodpecker, belted kingfisher, American goldfinch, mourning dove, scarlet tanager and wood duck were in contention. I’m glad that the common loon was chosen. It makes a lunatic like me feel right at home.

“How can I tell a male and female robin apart?” Only the male robins sing the “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up” song often heard early in the morning, and before and after sunrise. Some people think they sing when it’s about to rain. Females have paler heads that contrast less with their gray backs.

“What’s the difference between birders and birdwatchers?” I once maintained that birders traveled while birdwatchers let the birds do the traveling. Now I believe that they’re two names for the same thing. They both watch birds.

Sharon and Jack Brush of New Ulm asked why their new window-mounted bird feeder hadn’t attracted any birds after being in place for a few days? I’d give it another week or so. You could put seed in another feeder or on the ground nearby to attract birds. If patience doesn’t work, move the feeder to another window. In the meantime, I’ve dispatched some birds to your home. They’ll be delivered to your window.

“What kinds of birds eat honey bees?” Summer tanagers, kingbirds, swifts, mockingbirds, thrushes, purple martins and woodpeckers.

“Does Washington, D.C., have a state bird?” It does, even though it’s not a state. It’s not a cuckoo or the extinct dodo, as many would expect. It’s the wood thrush.

“What is the largest wren species?” The largest wren in North America is the cactus wren.

“What is the first bird mentioned in the Bible?” The first bird mentioned in the Bible was the raven (Genesis 8:7). Noah sent it forth. The bird went to and fro until the floodwaters subsided.


Thanks for stopping by

“Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining — they just shine.” — D. L. Moody

“Birding is something that we do for enjoyment. So if you enjoy it, you’re a good birder. If you enjoy it a lot, you’re a great birder.” — Kenn Kaufman


Do good.


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