Q: Do blue jays have gizzards? They toss down so many sunflower seeds so quickly it doesn’t seem as if they have time to digest them.

A: Yes, blue jays do have gizzards, but they also have a throat sac (called a gular pouch), which comes in handy when they want to gobble up seeds and other foods. They can fill this pouch and then go off to cough up the seeds either to eat at that time or hide for later consumption. A northern naturalist recently wrote about observing the blue jays in his backyard and found that several of them snatched up 70 or more sunflower seeds before flying away.

Pursuit speed

Q: I’ve been a duck hunter for many years and appreciate how fast they fly. But I’ve never seen a faster flier, horizontally, than the Cooper’s hawk. Are there any stats on this?

A: Cooper’s hawks often cruise along in the sky at around 22 to 30 miles per hour, a typical speed for this mid-sized raptor. But they’re capable of accelerating quickly in pursuit of a meal, which for this hawk often means another bird. There are reports of Cooper’s hawks flying at 60 mph for short periods, often near to the ground, after their prey.

Unusual taste?

Q: I didn’t cut down my hosta stalks this fall, and just noticed two cardinals perched on them and pecking at the seed cases. Is this unusual?

A: Cardinals relish the sunflower and safflower seeds in our feeders, but many other kinds of seeds appeal to them, as well. Hosta seeds are generally fairly large and offer a good reward for these big-beaked birds. I’ve even observed cardinals hovering like hummingbirds near hosta stalks to pull out seeds with their beaks.

Late, late bluebirds

Q: I was concerned that the bluebirds nesting near my backyard were still tending to their young in late October. I can’t remember them being this late other years and wonder if it’s common.

A: It isn’t at all common for any kind of songbird to still have young in the nest that late in the year. I wonder if the bluebird pair was attempting to raise a third brood and were pushing the season, or maybe they’d lost their second brood to a predator or weather some weeks earlier and started over. Either way, it’s going to be a challenge for the youngsters to gain life skills in time to survive.

A chukar?

Q: I live in a southwest suburb with a great deal of undeveloped land. I looked out one late fall day and was surprised to see a bird that the bird books say was a chukar, but they don’t live anywhere near here. Do you think this was a wild bird or a stray from a game farm?

A: It must have been a startling sight to see that small cousin of the partridge wandering around your backyard. They’re often released by game farms to be hunted, and there are many escapees from such farms, as well. They’re hardy little birds, able to survive in their more usual habitat, the mountain West. They’re not a native species there but, like the pheasant, were brought to this country for sport hunting.


Note from a reader: I want to chime in about goldfinches shredding flower petals [as one reader recently described]. I grew zinnias for the first time this past summer and observed goldfinches shredding their petals. My thinking for this behavior is that since a seed is attached to the bottom of each petal, the goldfinch is simply in the process of reaching a meal of seeds.


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.