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Continued: Birding: Learn how to tell hawks apart

  • Article by: VAL CUNNINGHAM , Contributing Writer
  • Last update: April 23, 2013 - 3:46 PM

Q: Watching some juncos scratching for food led me to wonder how ground-feeding birds locate food when the ground is covered with snow.

A: That’s an excellent question and a timely one after a snowy winter. Ground-feeding birds don’t have an easy time after heavy snowfalls: Most don’t weigh much and can’t make a dent in deep snow. Juncos are adept at hopping on top of the snow in search of fallen seeds and may bunch up under feeders. Some of the other birds you see, such as house sparrows and cardinals, search for snow-free spots, such as under an evergreen or deck, to forage.

To assist your birds after deep snows, you could head out with a push broom to sweep areas clear under feeders and evergreens, then scatter new seed for hungry birds. They’ll show up within minutes after you head indoors.

Mobbing tactics

Q: We’ve had a barred owl hanging around our feeders, and a group of noisy crows showed up to dive at him to scare him away. Is this unusual?

A: Your barred owl was watching patiently for mice and other small rodents attracted by spilled seed, but the crows were having none of it. It’s their usual practice to join up to drive any owls they see out of the area — this is called mobbing. Crows know that they’re vulnerable to night-hunting owls, who regard a crow roost as providing easy pickings. The crows feel safer if they drive off daytime owls.

Mouse incursions

Q: Have you ever heard of a mouse getting into a suet feeder? I have two baffles on the feeder pole so he had to climb the pole and go through the small space around each baffle.

A: And here I thought the gray squirrel was the only rodent we had to worry about getting into feeders. But mice are very athletic and good climbers, so it’s not all that surprising that this one found a way to gain access to a delicious, high-energy food.

Noisy jays

Q: Why are blue jays so noisy?

A: Blue jays are big, boisterous birds that like to communicate with other jays, as well as other kinds of birds. They have a big vocabulary, like their cousins, the crows, and aren’t shy about using it to warn of danger, scare other birds away from a food source or drive off cats and other predators. However, during nesting season, blue jays become almost silent, to protect their brood, and parent birds merely whisper to each other as they enter and leave their nest tree.


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


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