Q: Why is a robin bashing his beak into my car's outside mirror, and pooping down the side of the car, too?
A: Your car's mirror is reflecting the robin's image back to him, making the bird think that another robin is trying to take over his territory, so he sits and pecks to drive it away, sometimes for hours. The pooping is due to his stress and anxiety. This is a common springtime issue, with many birds mistaking their own reflections in windows and mirrors for a competitor. Cardinals and robins seem to be the major practitioners in our area, and it would be a kindness, not to mention alleviating the mess, to hang a towel over the mirror when your car is parked.
Q: I'm not sure I even knew there were such birds as white pelicans, but there they were, on Lake Phalen (in St. Paul) for several days in April. Was that unusual?
A: Not all that unusual, but it must have been quite a thrill to see them. These large white birds travel in groups to their nesting territories on western and northwestern lakes in Minnesota: At the time you spotted them, they'd probably glided down to rest and hunt for fish to fill their big pouches before continuing on migration. They nest in colonies, usually on remote islands on large, shallow lakes. White pelicans spend their winters on the Gulf of Mexico and make a spectacular sight as they wheel and glide in the sky.
Q: How can I get warblers to come to my feeders?
A: Warblers are such beautiful, active birds and I'm not surprised that you'd like to see some out your windows. If your yard has a tree or two and some shrubs, some warblers probably do visit your property, briefly, in the spring. But with very few exceptions, warblers live on an insect diet and are seldom found at bird feeders, the exception being during really cold spring weather, when some warblers stack up at suet feeders. Warblers migrate through our area, with only a few nesting locally. Most of these handsome birds are headed for northern breeding grounds. The riverside parks in both Twin Cities are great places for viewing migrating warblers, with numbers peaking in early to mid-May.
Searching for cranes
Q: After hearing the haunting sounds of sandhill cranes flying overhead in April I want to see them, without going for a long drive. Is that possible?
A: It certainly is possible to view sandhills locally. These long-legged birds build their nests in a variety of local parks and open areas, including Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township. On the other side of the metro, Three Rivers Park District reports that several pairs of sandhills nest in Crow-Hassan, Elm Creek and Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserves. Bear in mind, though, that as nesting season advances, these big birds become increasingly secretive. A bit farther away, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Zimmerman, Minn., hosts quite a few sandhills during the breeding season. Take the Prairie's Edge Wildlife Drive to search for cranes.
No plump birds
Q: How come we never see fat birds?
A: That's an excellent question and you're right, we seldom see obesity in birds. There are a number of factors that come into play: Birds live arduous lives and burn calories constantly as they move through their days. The two big events on their yearly calendar, nesting season and migration, burn up a lot of energy. Birds arriving back from their winter homes are often very lean, before they find fat insects to eat. And building a nest, raising young and keeping them fed are high-energy activities. Any extra weight would cause a bird to slow down, making it much more vulnerable to predators. So, except when they prepare for fall migration, birds tend to be on the wiry side, although I have seen some fairly plump robins in the spring.
Moths or hummingbirds?
Q: My neighbor and I love seeing the hummingbirds return in the spring. He swears that tiny baby hummingbirds visit his flowers in the summer, but I thought that young hummingbirds were about the same size as the adults. What do you say?
A: It's not uncommon for people to mistake several kinds of moths for hummingbirds. Several species of clearwing moths look a lot like hummingbirds, except for their small size. You're right, young hummingbirds are about the same size as the adults, so they don't seem like babies, except for their shorter beaks and lack of bright throats.
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 email@example.com