Q: Wasps have taken over our hummingbird feeders and the dish of jelly for the orioles. We have wasp traps but they're not working — the wasps still keep the little birds away from their food. Any advice?
A: At this time of year, many kinds of insects hunt feverishly for sources of carbohydrates and a hummingbird feeder provides just what they need. You could try any or all of several tactics to deter wasps and make it safe for hummingbirds (and orioles) to feed:
• Place a shallow dish or pie plate on the ground about 10 feet from the hummingbird feeder, then pour in a heavy sugar mixture, 2 parts water to 1 part sugar. This should keep the wasps and yellow jackets busy and away from the feeders.
• Hang another nectar feeder some distance from the bird feeders, especially one with yellow feeding ports, for the flying insects. They should flock to this and leave your hummingbird feeders alone.
• Make sure your feeders aren't leaking fluid, because this is an invitation to all the insects around. And if ants are a problem, try placing a water-filled ant moat above the feeder to deter them.
Please don't use any insecticides or sticky solutions nearby to discourage the insects, since these can harm birds. And I'd try to avoid using traps, since all of these creatures have a role to play in our backyard habitats.
Q: On really hot days I like to add a few ice cubes to the water dishes I put out for birds, hoping to cool the water a little bit. The squirrels and chipmunks seem to enjoy this, too.
A: I like the idea of you caring so much for your backyard creatures' welfare that you think of ways to help in hot weather. There's no way the ice cubes can harm them, so I'd continue to do this, if you choose.
Another thing that's good for birds on hot, dry days — especially thirsty migrants in search of a drink — is to turn your sprinkler on low, and let it and the soft sound it makes draw the birds in. We do this in the early fall and are always amazed at the variety of birds it brings in.
Q: I see those big hawks perched on the light poles on the highway on my way to work and I wonder what they're doing up there.
A: Turns out highways are a linear cafeteria for those red-tailed hawks standing on top of light poles and utility poles. They're watching for mice, voles and the occasional squirrel and they're generally very successful at finding living prey.
Note to readers:
We received several responses to recent items about foiling piggy blackbirds at bird feeders and molting ducks that foul docks and sidewalks:
Gordon Diers says that when blackbirds start gobbling up his sunflower seeds he switches to safflower. He's found that blackbirds won't touch it, and his feeders still attract all the other birds.
Christi Bystedt and Gary Bebeau live within prime blackbird habitat, so they take their sunflower seed feeder down for up to two weeks in late summer when the blackbirds descend. They miss seeing their usual birds during this time, but once the feeders go back up, "Our chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals and finches quickly return."
Morlene MacGregor says ducks and geese were a big problem around the Florida school where he was an administrator, until a professional pest control operator provided this tip: Spray grape juice around the area. "We tried this and it worked great, they stopped pooping on the sidewalks and the parking lot," MacGregor says.
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.