Q: I drive by a bald eagle nest on the way to and from work, and the eagles seem like they’re guarding the nest now. When will they lay eggs and start a family?
A: You’re right, bald eagles have already begun their nesting season and pairs can be viewed perching in their nest trees all around the metro area. (There is a well-known nest on the south side of Hwy. 36 on Keller Lake in Maplewood, another outside downtown St. Paul and one in Coon Rapids, among many others.) Eagles have been refurbishing their large nests to get them ready for their new brood. Egg-laying usually occurs in March but this year some of our metro eagles already had eggs in the nest by late January. After about a month of brooding, the eaglets, covered in a light-colored down, burst out of their shells. Eagles will always be a jaw-dropping sight and we’re lucky that their population is recovering so well after the ban on DDT. Minnesota ranks just behind Alaska for having the highest number of bald eagles.
Q: For the past few days we’ve had what I think are sparrows, up to 75 of them at a time, eating up all the thistle seed. Will they stick around?
A: I’m glad you sent a photo with your question, because this just didn’t sound like any sparrows I’m familiar with. The picture shows that your visitors are common redpolls, a small finch with a bright red cap. They’re visiting from Canada, where their usual sources of food are in short supply this winter.
Q: I’ve been seeing and hearing bluebirds all winter in the wetland behind my house. Isn’t this unusual?
A: People used to be amazed whenever they saw a bluebird in the summertime, because the population of these beautiful thrushes had dwindled by the 1970s.
But with volunteer-led recovery programs, the Eastern bluebird is rebounding and becoming almost a familiar sight. Now we’re amazed by the increase in reports of bluebirds staying up north all winter.
Several factors, including milder winter temperatures, less snow cover and the planting of more fruit-bearing shrubs and trees, help account for this trend, which is documented by the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Counts. So seeing bluebirds in winter is becoming less unusual all the time.
Q: We have always had lots of woodpeckers at our suet feeders, but after we were away for a month and the suet feeders were emptied, we don’t see them anymore. I wonder if they’ll ever come back.
A: Now that you’re filling your feeders again I’m sure that the downy and hairy woodpeckers will return. When they found the suet feeder empty for several weeks, they switched to a different foraging route for a time. But birds keep their eyes on things, and all it will take is for one bird to drop down for a bite and the others will notice the activity. It might even be a daring little chickadee that alerts the other birds to a renewed food source.
Stunned bird treatment
Q: What’s the best thing to do when a bird is stunned after hitting a window in winter? Would picking it up and placing it in a covered box inside do more harm than good? And if the bird flies off later, is there still a chance it will die?
A: These are excellent questions, and the best advice for what to do about an unconscious bird on the ground comes from the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville:
“If it’s cold outside or you’re worried about feral cats, you may place the bird in a shoe box and put it in your garage or an unused room. Be sure to close the door and keep the room quiet to help reduce stress on the already stressed bird. After an hour, take the box outside and lift the lid, and hopefully the bird will fly away. If not, and it’s evident that the bird has an injury, you should bring it in to the center.”
Leslie Reed, one of the staff veterinarians at the center, tells me that there’s no way to know the final outcome, but if the bird flies off in a normal fashion and its eyes, mouth and nostrils seem clear, then it has a good chance at surviving.
St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who leads bird hikes for 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.