Q: Is there any kind of list of the bird outings that might be available in our area on any given weekend? I’d like to go out with a birding group soon, but don’t know where to look for information.
A: Look at the calendar on the Birding page each Wednesday for a list of upcoming bird outings. You might also want to check the Web for a nearby Audubon chapter (St. Paul Audubon, Minnesota River Valley Audubon, Minneapolis Audubon), then check their page for a roster of field trips. Nearly all outings are free and open to the public. Many of the nature centers in our area sponsor bird walks, so check their websites for upcoming bird and nature walks. There are many to choose from: Springbrook Nature Center (Fridley), Wood Lake Nature Center (Richfield), Dodge Nature Center (West St. Paul), Maplewood Nature Center (Maplewood), Carpenter Nature Center (Hastings), Tamarack Nature Center (White Bear Township) and the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Bloomington).
Q: You recently mentioned a bleach solution to use to rinse bird feeders. I would appreciate the recipe.
A: I should have included the proportions with that reply: After washing out feeders, dip them in a solution made up of nine parts water to one part chlorine bleach, to kill pathogens. Then give feeders a thorough water rinse to remove any trace of the bleach. This will help keep disease away from your bird feeders.
Q: I wanted to share how I keep ants out of my hummingbird feeder, for people to use next year: Buy a moat cup from a wild bird store or elsewhere, but don’t fill it with water. Instead, hang it above the feeder, upside down, and smear petroleum jelly on the inside. I never have ants at this feeder.
A: Good tip, this sounds like it will work well to stop ants from getting into the sugar water. Petroleum jelly can be very bad for birds if it gets on their feathers, but this sounds as if it keeps the sticky stuff away from them.
Q: I’ve heard that we get our first snowfall two weeks after the first juncos return. Any truth to that?
A: Juncos are a good indicator that winter is on its way. I hadn’t heard this claim before, but as it turns out, this year it did snow, very lightly, almost exactly two weeks after juncos appeared.
Q: Can I use store-bought dehydrated fruit to put in bird cakes with nuts and seeds, or does it need to be fresh fruit? And what’s a good recipe for bird cakes for a variety of birds?
A: You certainly may use dehydrated fruit, in fact that’s the best kind to use. Fresh fruit would break up as you stirred the mixture and almost disappear. Chop up the dried fruit pieces (raisins, craisins, apricots and just about anything else) and it should appeal to all birds that enjoy fruit.
Here is a recipe for what some call “bird pudding.” This doesn’t harden up as much as suet cakes do, but birds love to snack on it. Crumble up some pieces and add to flat feeders or suet cages.
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup pure lard or butter (must be solid at room temperature)
2 cups quick oats
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup white sugar
Melt the peanut butter and lard/butter over medium heat, being careful not to burn the mixture. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. You can also add sunflower hearts, peanuts and/or dried fruit. Spread on a cookie sheet and allow to cool in the refrigerator until hard enough to cut into pieces. Store in containers in the freezer until needed.
Q: Why is my birdseed disappearing during the night?
A: Several kinds of mammals are active at night and might be siphoning off your seed. Raccoons can reach feeders either by climbing up the feeder pole or nearby tree, or by dropping from a nearby structure. They’re the most likely culprits. Another possibility: A couple of years ago I couldn’t figure out why the safflower seed in a hopper feeder was showered on the ground each morning. The culprits turned out to be a small group of flying squirrels, which knocked out seed as they glided in. They’re so darned endearing that I started feeding them peanuts placed in a nearby tree. A further possibility, if feeders hang low enough, might be white-tailed deer, which are always eager for a meal. Try a predator guard around the feeder pole to keep raccoons out, and wire fencing set in a circle around the pole, about 5 feet in diameter, might deter any deer.
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 email@example.com.