Woodpeckers are very active during breeding season

  • Article by: VAL CUNNINGHAM , Contributing Writer
  • Updated: April 30, 2013 - 3:47 PM

A woodpecker

Photo: Steve Rice, Star Tribune

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Q: We live next to a woodlot and it’s full of woodpeckers. Lately they’ve been chasing each other around our yard trees and I’m wondering if this is play or are they fighting?

A: Woodpecker chases may look like they’re playing a game, but this is the serious business of courtship. A male woodpecker drums to warn off other males and attract a female to survey his territory (and evaluate his fitness as a mate). The male is programmed to drive away any intruders, so at first he chases the female bird. But if she persists and won’t leave, she’s probably indicating her willingness to mate.

When to rehang feeders

Q: When should I put out my hummingbird and oriole feeders?

A: You can plan to take your nectar feeders out of storage, give them a good rinsing and hang them outdoors during the third week in April each year. The first hummingbirds are usually reported in late April, and Baltimore orioles arrive the first week in May.

Finch song livens yard

Q: I’ve been hearing the loveliest bird song since February, it’s very rich and goes on for a long time. Any idea what the bird is?

A: I’d bet the bird you’re hearing is a house finch, since they begin singing in late winter/early spring, and their song is lovely, a wonderful tonic on days when it seems that spring will never come. Hear the house finch here: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_finch/sounds.

Crusty snow foils owls

Q: I hope you can explain something that occurred at our bird feeding station. A barred owl was on the ground, digging in the fresh snow. It seemed to tug or grasp at something deep in the snow, then would fly up and sit on the feeding platform before flying down to try it again.

A: Thanks for sending photos of the owl at work, I’ve never had a chance to observe this behavior. As you know, this winter has been notorious for deep snow with a heavy crust on top, both of which make hunting difficult for owls. I’ll bet your barred owl was hearing mice or voles scurrying around at ground level but was simply unable to break through the snow crust to reach its prey. There are many reports of starving owls from around the state, and the condition of the snow has been a key factor.

Great horneds nest early

Q: Is it unusual to see a great horned owl on a nest as early as February and March?

A: The owl you’re seeing is doubtless the female great horned owl, since she handles all incubation duties. And she’s right on schedule: This owl species begins laying eggs as early as January. The female must incubate her eggs around the clock to keep them from freezing.

Vinegar doesn’t cut it

Q: I don’t like working with chlorine bleach. Can’t I use vinegar to clean my bird feeders?

A: I sympathize, because chlorine bleach is pretty powerful stuff. But vinegar isn’t as effective at killing off the several kinds of bacteria that can infest feeders and food. To be on the safe side, please continue to use the formula of one part bleach to nine parts water in your cleaning solution, then rinse feeders thoroughly.

Is feeding harmful?

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