Q: Why don’t pigeons migrate?

A: That’s an interesting question and part of the answer lies in the fact that these birds are not native to the United States. Settlers brought rock pigeons to this continent in the early 1600s. On their home grounds in Europe, North Africa and Asia, they don’t migrate but live and nest on rocky cliffs. They’ve adapted to urban life well, treating tall buildings as their home cliffs. Their strong homing instinct makes them easy to train as homing, racing and messenger birds. Similarly, another nonnative species, the house sparrow, is nonmigratory, as well.

Frozen food

Q: We were surprised to see a male cardinal eating the freeze-dried mealworms we set out for the chickadees. Is this unusual?

A: Birds had to put on a layer of fat each day to fight the cold, and your cardinal figured out that mealworms are an excellent source of energy. Cardinals seem to be fairly adventurous birds that are willing to try new things — maybe this one noticed a chickadee carrying off a mealworm and was intrigued. Once the cardinal tried them, he found the dried worms to be a good way to stoke his inner furnace.

Owls in the ’hood

Q: A pair of great horned owls was hanging around our neighborhood this winter, and we could hear them hooting back and forth. The whole neighborhood is hoping they nest nearby, maybe in a large pine tree, and keep the rabbits under control.

A: Imagine having these large owls nesting right in the neighborhood. I think you and your neighbors can count on two things: Since they’re not nest-builders, the owls will need to adopt a nest built by another species (red-tailed hawk, crows, even squirrels) or a large break in a tree to settle into. And now that it’s spring, the owls will be feeding their voracious owlets, and rabbits may begin to disappear from the neighborhood.

Disappearing act

Q: We have robins nesting around our property from spring into July every year, and then they seem to disappear. Isn’t that too early for them to fly south? Where do they go?

A: Good question, and as you know, robins in our region raise at least two broods during the breeding season. As summer progresses and the second nesting period begins to wrap up, the males gather in parks and natural areas to feed and roost. As young robins become independent, they find these flocks. Females join them once they’ve finished raising their last brood. The robins will spend the final weeks of summer and fall fattening up and preparing for migration (although not all will leave).

Feisty red bird

Q: A male cardinal has been attacking our windows this past fall and winter. I know they will do this during breeding season, but he’s out there every day, attacking numerous windows. What gives with this bird?

A: You’re right, this behavior is not uncommon in the spring, when birds maintaining their territories will attack “competitors” they see reflected in windows. I checked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and researcher Andrew Farnsworth says that your bird may be a highly dominant male who is trying to keep other cardinals out of his territory. Anything that cuts down on the reflectivity of your windows (cardboard on the outside, curtains closed inside, etc.) may help deter him.

Raptor meal

Q: We just happened to be looking out the window as a bald eagle held a struggling Canada goose down and began to rip off its feathers. The eagle fed for a while and then was joined by another, which we assumed was its mate. Were they pairing up this early?

A: I suspect that the hapless goose probably had an injury or illness that made it unable to escape the eagle’s talons. And at the time of your observation, early February, bald eagles had been building or refurbishing their nests for some weeks. Female bald eagles in our region begin laying eggs as early as mid-February. So the birds you saw were probably a nesting pair, and you may be lucky enough to spot the nest near your home. (Watch a pair of local bald eagles at their nest via the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ live eagle cam: https://bit.ly/2wcHA8z).

 

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.