Q: When do the birds we see in spring and summer begin migrating in our direction?

A: That’s an excellent question, and there’s no single answer. Some of our summer birds that travel from as far away as South America — such as scarlet tanagers that spend the winter in Argentina — were already on their way by mid-February. Indigo buntings leave Mexico and Central America around mid-April to arrive by mid-May, and rose-breasted grosbeaks, which winter in the same region, leave a bit earlier to show up here in mid-May. Baltimore orioles leave Central America in late February or March and land in Minnesota in early May. Birds with a shorter migration, such as Eastern bluebirds and blue-gray gnatcatchers, which winter in the South and Mexico, begin migrating somewhat later to arrive in early spring.

No treats for woodpeckers

Q: I am so fed up with those small woodpeckers pecking on my house that I don’t want our feeders to attract them. What don’t they like to eat?

A: You’re probably seeing downy woodpeckers and they can be very persistent in their search for food and/or places to drum. Woodpeckers don’t seem to favor safflower seeds, so you might offer these, and they leave those needlelike nyger seeds alone, as well.

Speaking ’dee

Q: I was interested in your column about warning calls, and wonder if chickadee calls may serve multiple purposes. My husband puts sunflower seeds on the deck rail and then gives a “chick-a-dee” call and the little birds come in to take seeds, with him sitting nearby. We imagine that he and they are speaking the same language.

A: You’re right that chickadees communicate many kinds of things and have different sounds for different situations. ’Dees in a foraging flock frequently make the “chick-a-dee” call to stay in touch and announce a good food resource. It sounds as if your chickadees have learned to associate your husband’s call with his offering of food.

Small speckled bird

Q: I’m very confused about a bird that’s been frequenting our backyard. From the bird books it looks like a blackbird, what do you think?

A: The bird in the photo you sent confuses many people because it looks so different at different times of the year. It’s a European starling in its winter coat, with pale tips on all its outer feathers. This gives it a speckled look and if you’re not used to seeing starlings in winter, this can be startling. By spring, all those tips will have worn off, and starlings will look like the iridescent black birds we’re used to seeing.

Tree turkeys

Q: There are turkeys roaming around our area, and we’ve seen them up in deciduous trees at night. Is this normal? It seems to make them so vulnerable to storms and cold.

A: Yes, it’s entirely normal for wild turkeys to roost in deciduous trees for the night. When the weather is very cold and/or inclement, many turkeys seek out evergreens, which provide more shelter, for night roosting.

 

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 valwrites@comcast.net.