When young robins hop out of the nest, Dad keeps them fed while Mom starts all over with a new brood.
Q The robins in our back yard have already produced two batches of youngsters. Now the female seems to be getting ready for a third batch -- is this possible?
A Most robin pairs in our area raise two broods of young birds each year, but a third clutch is not unheard of. This pair must have started its first nest early in the season. The male robin fed their fledglings as the female started her second nest. Since you observed this in mid-June, they'll have plenty of time to bring off a third family. After a summer of hard work, they may have increased the robin population by as many as 12 new members.Whose sweet tooth?
Q Something is draining our hummingbird feeder. It's a brand-new feeder, so there are no leaks, but every morning when I check it, there's no sugar water left. Who's drinking the nectar?
A My guess would be a raccoon or a raccoon family. These mammals are active at night, they like sweet stuff and they're good climbers. Try bringing the nectar feeder in at night and putting it back out early each morning. This should foil those nighttime bandits.Mom's missing
Q I've been watching adult orioles feeding their youngsters in the nest, but for the past two days only the male bird is working. Could the female be working on another nest?
A Baltimore orioles nest only once a season, unless they lose their first nest early on. If you haven't seen the female oriole for a few days, that probably means she's succumbed to one of the many dangers in the avian world.Local loons?
Q I live in Plymouth and have been enjoying listening to loons at night. Are they nesting around here or just passing through?
A I'll bet there is a nest on or near your lake. Loons do nest on lakeshores in the metro area, on quiet lakes without much human traffic or motorized vehicles. We think of these as birds of the far north, but juvenile loons begin to show up on area lakes later in the summer, indicating that they were raised not far away.Make way for ducklings
Q A mallard made a nest in the yard, and we're a long way from water. One day they were all gone, and I wonder where they went and hope they're safe.
A Ducklings are able to walk within hours of hatching, and then the mother leads her brood to a nearby body of water. The youngsters need to observe their mother foraging for food in order to learn how to feed themselves, and most of their food is in or near the water. Life is dangerous for ducklings, both on the walk to water, where they run a gauntlet of crows, foxes and even raccoons, and then in the pond or lake, where they face snapping turtles and large fish.Quick stop
Q I looked out my window to see a cardinal noisily feeding a caterpillar to its baby on a branch. The mother and father did this a couple of times, then suddenly all three were gone. Did they leave voluntarily?
A In my experience, cardinals are "fast fledgers": One minute the parents are feeding their young on a perch near the nest, the next moment they're all gone, but can be heard calling not far away. This is a good survival tactic, since cardinals tend to build their nests low in the shrubbery, making them vulnerable to predators, and all that "chipping" to their youngsters also can catch the attention of a cat or hawk.Jay jabberings
Q After reading the column about blue jays, I wanted to offer an observation: I often hear what I call "cozy family talk" in the vicinity of a nested pair of jays while they're incubating eggs or raising a brood. This gentle jabbering seems to be a continual conversation between the two adults, uttered in low tones. If you know where blue jays are nesting, I'd recommend sitting nearby and just listening.
A Thanks for your fascinating description of blue jay sounds. These birds are very vocal and are known to engage in what researchers call their "whisper songs," made up of soft, quiet clicks, chucks, whirrs, whines, liquid notes and other sounds. If I'm ever lucky enough to discover where a pair of jays is nesting, I will certainly try to eavesdrop.A fatty diet
Q We're seeing a robin eating vigorously at our suet cakes. Isn't that a bit unusual?
A I'm seeing a similar thing in my back yard: The robins and catbirds chisel out big lumps of suet and either gulp them down or carry them away to their nestlings. They probably noticed the woodpeckers pecking at the suet cakes and decided to try it. It's a high-energy meal for infant birds and an easy way to keep them fed. Suet is one of the few foods at our feeding stations that appeal to these birds, both of whose diets emphasize insects and fruit.Swallows re-use nests
Q Some swallows nested in my friend's barn, and we're wondering what to do now. After the young birds leave, should she get rid of the old nest so the female will build a new one for her second brood?
A I love it when birds live up to their names -- it sounds as if barn swallows are nesting in your friend's barn. You're correct that they raise two batches of youngsters during the summer. I'd leave the old nest alone, because females often re-use the old nest after adding some new mud and feathers. Barn swallows will return time and time again to their old nest site, and Nebraska seems to hold the record, with a 17-year-old barn swallow nest recorded in that state.
Val Cunningham, a St. Paul nature writer, bird surveyor and field trip leader, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.