Q I have a problem with house sparrows wolfing down all the seed in the feeders and scaring other birds away. How do I discourage sparrows and encourage the nicer birds?

A Nearly everyone who feeds birds encounters problems with house sparrows. They're pigs at feeders and a large flock may drive away the cardinals, finches and chickadees.

Try scattering millet and cracked corn on the ground under a tree at least 30 feet from your feeders. House sparrows are naturally ground feeders so this strategy should keep them busy for a while. Replace sunflower seeds with safflower to discourage them at feeders.

You could also buy or make a sparrow deterrent. Sparrows are not very maneuverable in flight and don't like to fly around or through things. An arrangement of monofilament fishing line with weights attached, hanging from feeder tops, seems to deter sparrows. To get an idea of what this looks like, try visiting www.sialis.org/halo.htm.

Where did all the bluebirds go? Q What happens to bluebirds after the youngsters leave the nest? They seem to vanish from midsummer until fall.

A The bluebirds that you notice on the local golf course are probably still in the area all summer, but one or two things may make them fairly invisible. One, bluebirds are surprisingly tough to spot unless they're right in front of us. And after they raise a first brood of young birds, they're impossibly busy starting up a new nest while still feeding their teenagers, outside the nest box. Adults and juveniles do gather in late autumn before migrating several hundred miles south.

Bird feeder counter Q I recently put up a bird feeder and am excited by the large number of birds that visit. Is there any way to estimate the number of different birds that come by each day?

A There are so many variables here that there's really no way to come up with an estimate. To get some answers and have an enjoyable time, try watching your feeder in the early morning and again in the evening to see for yourself what birds it draws.

You'll notice that some birds, especially starlings and house sparrows, can be feeder pigs, while others, such as the chickadees, dash in for one seed at a time. But unless the birds were marked in some way, there's no way to differentiate between a bird making repeated visits and one arriving for the first time.

Val Cunningham, a St. Paul nature writer, bird surveyor and field trip leader, can be reached at valwrites@comcast.net.