Q: I’ve recently moved to the city and would love to see bluebirds. Are there places I can go to see these beautiful birds?
A: I asked a couple of bluebird experts and they agreed that the north end of Cedar Lake in Minneapolis is a reliable spot. There is a bluebird trail within Como Park in St. Paul, so you might spot them there, and there are bluebird trails at Elm Creek Park Reserve, Hyland Lake Park Reserve and Carver Park Reserve. Check here (www.threeriversparks.org/parks) for directions to these parks.
Q: I’ve fixed up an old bluebird box and want to mount it on a pole, but don’t know what direction the box should face.
A: I asked Mary Ellen Vetter of the Bluebird Recovery Project of Minnesota, who offered this advice: “The direction most often chosen by bluebirds, in order of preference, is east, northeast, south and west. Prevailing winds, sightlines to a safe perch, away from auto traffic, and direction of hottest sunlight, should be considered.” So, to keep the winds away from your nest box, turn it so the entrance faces east, northeast or south. Bluebirds raise two broods in a season so there’s still plenty of time to attract a nesting pair.
Q: We had quite a few orioles at our feeders this spring, including one that was smaller than the others. It was mostly black with just a bit of orange on the chest, and I wondered if it was some type of mutation.
A: I’d bet that the smaller bird was not an oriole but instead a kind of warbler, the American redstart, which some birders refer to as the “mini-oriole.” They’re much smaller than Baltimore orioles, and are mostly black except for touches of orange on the wings, shoulders and tail. During our long, cold spring, a number of warblers were visiting back-yard feeders, which is fairly unusual for this family of birds.
What’s with the orioles?
Q: We had so many orioles at the feeders this year — they came in nonstop for two weeks, and then they disappeared. Is this something to worry about?
A: Don’t fret about the disappearance of the orioles; this is perfectly natural behavior. The large groups you were seeing in early May were made up of migrants moving through and stopping to refresh themselves at your feeders. Now the birds have dispersed to find and hold territories for nesting season. Many people report that they don’t see “their” orioles again until late June or July, after the youngsters have left the nest and parents lead them to feeders.
Q: I’ve heard people say that bird feeders aren’t necessary in the summertime and we should take ours down. Is this true?
A: It’s true that wild food is abundant in the summertime, when insects hatch, berries ripen and seeds form. But the birds that have been visiting your back-yard feeders still appreciate a reliable source of food. Think of that cardinal pair that dropped in for sunflower or safflower seeds all spring — they appreciate being able to dash in for a quick pick-me-up during nesting season.
Also please consider that while food might be abundant in nature, individual neighborhoods might not offer much sustenance to birds, if lawns are the dominant vegetation.
Q: While walking around the local lake, we were surprised to see a few mallard drakes with blue head feathers, not the distinctive green we’re used to. We went back another day and saw another mallard drake with a blue head. Any insight into this uncommon head color?
A: I did some Internet searching for mallards with blue heads and came away convinced that credible sources (like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) refer only to green-headed mallards, the kind we’re all familiar with. Yes, there are websites showing mallards with non-green heads, but these seem to show the ducks at a particular angle of sunlight that shifts the head color to a deep blue or purple. I’ve seen this color shift myself at the local lake and it seems to be a trick of the light rather than a true color difference.
Note to readers: Discover a great website where you can get your “owl fix” on a regular basis: The International Owl Center has two live webcams trained on its resident owls. Find them here: www.internationalowlcenter.org. The center, whose motto is “Making the world a better place for owls,” is located in Houston, Minn., just 150 miles away.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.