Q: As a recent retiree I'm looking for volunteer opportunities that involve helping birds. Any suggestions?
A: Good for you, and there are many local organizations that welcome volunteers with open arms. Here are some suggestions, just google any that appeal to you:
• The Raptor Center (U of M St. Paul campus) and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (Roseville), which treat sick or injured wild creatures.
• Conservation organizations such as the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Friends of the Mississippi River, Great River Greening.
• Nature centers, including Springbrook (Fridley), Maplewood, Wood Lake (Richfield), Tamarack (Shoreview), Dodge (West St. Paul), Wargo (Lino Lakes), Harriet Alexander (Roseville), Westwood Hills (St. Louis Park) or Carpenter (Hastings).
• Cornell Lab of Ornithology's citizen science projects, such as Project FeederWatch.
• Three Rivers Park District or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Q: We had a Cooper's hawk nest on our property last summer and I'm wondering if the hawks might still be around.
A: Even though most field guides show Cooper's hawks overwintering a bit south of here, I know that some spend the winter in the metro area (one just swept through my backyard a few minutes ago), so one or more of your summer Cooper's hawks may be here at this season.
Q: Thinking about spring, I'm wondering if any birds eat box elder bugs.
A: I'm afraid that's wishful thinking. There are several reports of house sparrows eating a few of these insects, but they apparently have a bitter taste and birds don't favor them.
Q: I watched a blue jay hiding a peanut in the leaves along my driveway. First it pushed it into the leaves, then the jay piled a few more leaves on top. Is the bird hoping to plant a crop of peanuts, or does it want to eat the peanut later?
A: Great observation of a bird whose species is known to cache food for later consumption. This habit of theirs contributes to the spread of oak trees because the jays don't return for all the acorns they hide. In this case, a squirrel will probably find the peanut before the jay comes back, but they hoard so much food in this way that there'll usually be something left to eat.
Q: The crows are gobbling all the food we put out for backyard birds and we seem to be spending all our time running outdoors to scare them off.
A: To save yourself the time and stress spent chasing off these large invaders, I'd suggest taking down your platform feeder, which makes it very easy for all kinds of birds to stop in to dine. Instead, try a feeder with a dome that can be raised and lowered, and lower it enough so that desirable birds like cardinals fit under the dome, but larger birds are excluded. Save the platform feeder, though, in case the crows move off and you can begin to use it again.
Hints from readers
In addition to some recent suggestions for keeping squirrels out of bird feeders (using a shepherd's hook pole, adding a predator guard, placing it away from structures), readers sent in a few additional tips. One suggested placing a metal clothes-dryer vent cover around the pole, thus foiling squirrels attempting to climb. Another reader suggested threading a "Slinky" toy around the shepherd's hook pole, noting that squirrels can't navigate it.
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.