Q: Recently there was a chukar partridge on my suburban doorstep. In doing some research I see that they don’t live around here, but that apparently isn’t true now.
A: You’re right, chukars are not native to our region, and in fact, they’re not native to the United States, but were imported in the 1930s as a game bird. They’re now established out West in mountainous regions that mimic their home territories in Europe and Asia. Some game farms in the East regularly release chukars before hunting season, so this bird might have moved in from either the East or the West. A few chukars are reported each year in the metro area.
No-tail blue jay
Q: Last fall I noticed a blue jay coming in to the feeders missing its tail. The bird seemed to navigate reasonably well, but I didn’t see it this winter. Would it have migrated, or regrown new tail feathers or didn’t survive in the cold?
A: Any of the scenarios you mentioned are possible. The jay almost surely lost its tail feathers in an attack by a predator, usually either a cat or a hawk. Birds can fly fairly well while they wait for new feathers to grow in, as you noticed. Your jay might have moved to another area with its flock, or it may be passing unnoticed at your feeders with a brand-new tail. It’s also possible that the jay succumbed during our off again-on again winter.
Q: I recently noticed two crows out in the street feeding intently on something but there didn’t seem to be anything obvious in the road. Were they eating the salt in the road or what else might they have been doing?
A: I’ll bet they were eating the road salt, not so much for the salt but for the molasses mixture that many public works departments add to coat the salt. This makes the salt stick to the road better and makes it less corrosive. The molasses in those blue-green salt pellets would have a sweet taste, and this appeals to the crows. In other cities, cheese brine or beet juice is added to the road salt, either of which might also be tasty to crows.
Q: A wild turkey has taken up residence in my townhouse complex, and when I go to pick up my mail, he appears out of nowhere and follows me. He’s really becoming a pest and we’ve called the police and an animal control company and they say there’s nothing that can be done. Any suggestions?
A: Someone in your area is providing food for the turkey, either intentionally or by seed falling from bird feeders. As long as the bird finds food he will probably stick around. With mating season for turkeys approaching, it would be a good idea to drive the bird out of the neighborhood, before there are more confrontations. I found some good advice on the Department of Natural Resources website, which advises that everyone in the neighborhood must work to drive off this bird. You’ll probably feel odd, carrying a broom with you when you pick up your mail, but this is probably what it will take. You can find out more at www.dnr.state.mn.us — search for “Living with turkeys.” It’s possible that by mid-March, with mating season in full swing, the bird will leave to find other turkeys. But if he’s decided that you and your neighbors are part of his flock, trouble lies ahead.
Q: In the past few years there has been growing awareness of pesticides such as neonicotinoids and their unintended impacts on insects, birds and other wildlife. Is the birdseed we buy treated with these pesticides, and if so, does it harm birds? Is there any birdseed that is sold as neonic-free?
A: That’s an excellent question, and the answer is a bit complex. I feel we can trust the American Bird Conservancy, an organization that bases its positions on solid science. And the ABC says that while neonics are harmful to birds, there is little evidence that these pesticides are used by the birdseed industry. You can read more at: https://abcbirds.org/blog/real-threat-from-neonics/. It’s a good idea to keep asking our seed suppliers about this, to show that we care about what we’re feeding our backyard birds.
Eagles vs. dogs
Q: You wrote recently that hawks couldn’t carry off a small dog, but what about an eagle? Eagles are huge, what do you say about their weight-carrying limitations?
A: Eagles are larger than hawks, weighing in at 8 to 12 pounds, on average, and are said to be able to lift off while carrying about half of their body weight. So most dogs and cats have nothing to fear from a bald eagle on the ground. However, an eagle is able to capture its prey on the fly, and might lift up to 8 pounds, which would make a small dog more vulnerable. A bald eagle would be unlikely to swoop into a fenced yard or to approach a dog on a leash, so it’s still unlikely that a small dog would end up in an eagle nest. There’s an interesting article on the Alaska government site about eagles’ carrying abilities. Visit www.adfg.alaska.gov and search for “eagle flight.”
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.