On the wing: Small owl pauses for snooze

  • Article by: VAL CUNNINGHAM , Contributing Writer
  • Updated: November 27, 2012 - 1:44 PM

Saw-whet owls stop to nap during the day.

Saw-whet owls stop to nap as they migrate through this area to parts farther south for the winter.

Photo: Val Cunningham,

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Q I happened to look into our pine tree in the back yard and there was a baby owl sitting there. There weren't any other owls around and it wasn't there the next day, so I'm wondering if it will be all right.

A No need to worry about the little owl you noticed: At this time of year, Minnesota's smallest owl, the saw-whet, is migrating through on the way to Iowa and points farther south for the winter. This was an adult, but at only 8 inches tall I can see why it looked like a youngster to you.

I was lucky enough to see a similar sight near the end of October -- chickadees were making a great commotion around a small evergreen in a neighbor's yard. I grabbed binoculars and camera and got the photo at right of a saw-whet resting during the day before its nighttime migration.

Suet stuffing

Q I'm wondering if I can use grocery-store suet in my suet log feeder. Those commercially made plugs are so expensive.

A I don't see why you couldn't buy suet at the meat counter and cut it down to fit the holes in your suet log feeders. The birds will love it.

Birds playing tag

Q While out walking my dog I observed a crow chasing a Cooper's hawk, then they'd switch places and the hawk would chase the crow. They'd also land on the ground, facing each other, then fly up into the air and bounce down. This went on for a few minutes, and then a squirrel distracted the hawk. It was fun to watch and I wonder: Do different species indulge in games?

A Thanks for sending in your wonderful observation, which was fun to picture in my mind. And yes, I think wild animals engage in play behavior, both with others of their own kind and occasionally with different species. Readers have sent photos of dogs playing with deer, and a deer and a wild turkey chasing each other, and YouTube has many similar videos.

I'd suspect that the hawk in this case was a young one, and the crow might have been a youngster, too (although crows remain playful all their lives). The crow may have started chasing the hawk and the hawk regarded it as sport, incorporating recently learned survival skills, such as stopping on a dime, flying fast and jumping from the ground into the air.

I once observed a similar scenario that involved four recently fledged kestrels flying around a park's baseball diamond. A crow flew in and began chasing the kestrels, and then they turned the tables and began chasing the crow. This went on for quite a while and all five birds exhibited a playful sense of exuberance. I came home amazed and refreshed by this sight.

Outwitting woodpeckers

Q We've moved into a home with wooden shake siding and the woodpeckers are taking a terrible toll on it. Is there any way to make them go away?

A You're encountering one of the most frustrating aspects of living in a cedar shake home -- woodpeckers love to drill into the wood in search of insect larvae. We've received so many inquiries about this problem over time that I've put together a list of websites that you should find helpful.

Some of the best information I've come across is available at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site: www.birds.cornell.edu/wp_about. Another good source is on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) site: www.dnr.state.mn.us/livingwith_wildlife/woodpeckers/index.html. Good luck, and I hope you find some tips that work for you.

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 valwrites@comcast.net

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