Q: We live in Bloomington on the bluff overlooking the Minnesota River and see a parade of wildlife through our yard. But last week I saw a large crane slowly prancing through the neighborhood and wonder if this is rare for this area.
A: It must have been a bit startling to look out and see a sandhill crane walking down the street. The staff at the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge says that the refuge often hosts sandhills during the summer, although there are no documented sightings of nesting cranes. With up to 70 percent of the refuge underwater in mid-July, they theorize that the crane you saw was seeking higher ground.
Birds robbing spiders
Q: After reading your column about hummingbirds and their use of spider webbing to construct their nests, I'm trying to recall what I've read about how wrens use spiders.
A: You're right, birds make good use of spiders' expandable webbing for nest building.
And wrens take things a step further by gathering up spider egg sacs and stuffing them into the nooks and crannies of their stick nests. When the young spiders hatch, they help control insects that invade nest boxes. And here's another one: Many songbirds feed small spiders to their nestlings during their first week of life. Researchers have found that spiders contain an amino acid that makes young birds more intrepid and intelligent.
Q: I'm having a real problem with hornets taking over my oriole jelly feeder and keeping the birds away. Any ideas?
A: Hornets can be a nuisance around jelly feeders and sugar-water feeders. The insects are hungry for the carbohydrates, driving away birds wary of getting stung. How about mixing up a batch of sugar water, slightly more sugary than hummingbird or oriole nectar, maybe 3 parts water to 1 part sugar. Place this in a shallow dish on the ground in the vicinity of your feeder, maybe 6 to 10 feet away. The hornets should flock to the dish feeder and leave your bird feeder alone.
Worms for orioles?
Q: Now that the orioles have returned to my feeders, should I be offering mealworms to them?
A: At this time of year I'd bet that your orioles will prefer jelly to mealworms. They need to put on a fat layer to sustain them on migration, and high-energy carbohydrates do this more quickly than protein (in mealworms) does.
Why orioles like grape
Q: Why do orioles eat grape jelly and not other fruit flavors, like strawberry?
A: Orioles show a marked preference for dark fruits, like ripe mulberries, grapes and elderberries. If you have a mulberry tree in your yard, you can test this yourself, by watching as various species of birds feed on the fruit. While robins and catbirds and others will gobble up semi-ripe fruit, orioles will take nothing but the ripest berries.
Q: When does fall migration start?
A: It's already underway, with reports from near the Canadian border of shorebirds on the move by the third week of July. Male hummingbirds start to depart in mid-August and the big bird rush takes place in the first half of September. It's a good time to keep feeders stocked and birdbaths fresh, for migrants on the move.
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.