Q: What do you think about feeding birds in the summer? I've been told it's not a good idea to feed them when they can find their own food out in nature.
A: That's a very timely question and there are no hard and fast answers. Yes, nature provides abundant food sources in summer and fall.
But there are many good reasons to feed birds year-round. When feeder food is available, birds can spend less time searching for a meal. Well-fed birds build better nests, well-nourished females lay stronger eggs and parent birds with easy access to feeder food can spend more time hunting down insects for their broods.
And then there are the benefits to you: You'll see more birds and enjoy the chance to see parents bringing their fledglings to your feeder and birdbath.
Birds storing suet
Q: We see woodpeckers flying directly from our suet feeder to a nearby tree, then moving up and down the trunk. Are they looking for a place to store the suet or are they hunting for bugs?
A: Woodpeckers are great hiders of food items to consume later. I've seen downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers pull out chunks of suet at my feeder, then fly to a maple tree and stuff them under loose pieces of bark. This raises another question: How often do they find that piece of suet when they return? Squirrels and other birds are eager to come across such caches, too.
Chemicals vs. birds
Q: My neighbor says pesticides don't harm birds, only insects. Is he right?
A: No, he's not. Even though pesticides are designed to kill insects (and don't forget that this includes butterflies and bees), there are several ways they can sicken birds: One is if birds mistake chemical granules for food and eat them. Another is if birds forage on foliage that has been treated with pesticides. Studies show that when birds eat seeds coated with a fairly new class of pesticides, the neonicotinoids, their ability to fly is impaired.
There's also a secondary effect — if pesticides significantly reduce populations of flies, grasshoppers and caterpillars, there's less food for birds to eat. Pesticides do harm birds.
Eagles vs. drones
Q: Just saw a short piece about eagles being trained to capture drones in Holland. Can you tell me more about this?
A: It does sound as if the Dutch police are testing whether European eagles can help control illegal drone activity by capturing them in flight. This isn't without controversy because it's possible for a raptor to be injured by impact with a hard object. Bald eagles in the United States enjoy protections that would make this practice unlikely here. You can see a video about Dutch eagle/drone activity at: http://tinyurl.com/jvb79w8.
Q: It's almost midnight and I'm hearing some bird that sounds like a crow outside. Any thoughts?
A: The only birds that should be calling that late at night are several species of owls, but I can't think of any owl that sounds like a crow. However, young owls calling for a meal or looking to locate a parent may produce many kinds of squawks and screeches, so this might be your midnight bird.
St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who volunteers with the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.