Q: We’ve never had collared doves before and now there two pairs of them eating at our feeders. Is this breed of dove becoming more prevalent in Minnesota? Our field guide shows them in Florida.

A: What a treat it must be to observe two pairs of Eurasian collared doves right in your own backyard. These pale birds, named for the black line on the nape of their neck, have been moving into our area for the past 20 years. They’re native to Europe and Asia, and are about the size of a rock pigeon, but slimmer. They were first noticed in our hemisphere in the Bahamas in the 1970s, then reached Florida in 1982. The doves were first sighted in Minnesota in 1998 and are now found across much of the United States, a very rapid expansion for a nonnative species. It’s possible that the effects of global warming are helping collared doves colonize northern areas.

Even though they’re an alien species, the jury is still out on whether they’re negatively affecting native dove species, such as the mourning dove. They withstand our winters fairly well, and seem destined to become a more common sight. The pairs you’re seeing might be nesting, since they raise several broods a year.

Fierce hawk overhead

Q: A northern goshawk is nesting in a tall tree very near our northern cabin, and is very protective of its young in the nest, calling and swooping near us, although it hasn’t attacked anyone. We would like to live in peaceful coexistence and wonder: How long it will be before the young fledge?

A: Goshawks are the larger, fiercer and more northern cousins of the familiar Cooper’s hawk, and you’re right, they are very protective of their offspring. There have been reports of goshawks attacking humans and other animals they feel are venturing too close to their nest. I checked with Gaea Crozier, the Nongame Wildlife Program specialist in northeastern Minnesota, and staying away from the nest as much as possible until the young hawks disperse sounds like the best approach. The good news is that about five weeks after hatching, the young will be ready to fledge, and the parents should become less vigilant. The maybe not-so-good news: They may nest at or near the same spot next year, since this species feels strong ties to its nest site.

Downy delight

Q: A downy woodpecker has discovered our hummingbird feeder and now drinks from it frequently. Is it normal for woodpeckers to like hummingbird juice?

A: If you’ve ever watched a downy woodpecker lapping up tree sap in the spring, you’ll understand that they, like many birds, enjoy a sweet snack. Once downy woodpeckers find hummingbird nectar in a feeder, they return time after time.

Rain bath?

Q: I recently watched a mourning dove sitting on a branch during a rainstorm. It would raise one wing and angle its body toward the rain, then do the same with the other side, for maybe six or eight times. Was it using the rain to cool down, to wash its armpits or what?

A: That must have been an amazing sight, and I think your theory that the bird was taking a bath in the rain is correct.

No more syrup

Q: My friends think I’m crazy but I’ve decided not to feed grape jelly that has high fructose corn syrup in it to my orioles, because this might be dangerous to them. Do you agree?

A: As Duluth ornithologist Laura Erickson says, there’s a lot of evidence that high fructose corn syrup isn’t healthy for humans, “so I can’t imagine it’s any better for birds.” She reads labels carefully to find jelly that is free of this ingredient.

Fostering loons

Note to readers: For a fascinating look at a pair of Wisconsin loons that are raising a mallard duckling, do a Google search for “Mallard duckling raised by loons.” The Audubon page says this is the first time such behavior between loons and a duck has ever been documented, and the photo of the “teenaged” mallard riding on a foster parent’s back is priceless. Read on to discover just how unusual it is.

 

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 valwrites@comcast.net.