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Q: I saw a pair of geese shepherding 24 goslings at a lake near my home, a surprising sight. A day later they had 32 young geese in the group, and I wonder why this is happening.

A: What you're seeing is a goose nursery, sometimes called a crèche, and is a way for Canada geese to keep goslings safe from predators while allowing their parents to take some time off. The 32 goslings must be a gathering of youngsters from six or seven families. A few adults keep watch while others feed themselves or loaf on the water.

A 'chicka-hummer'

Q: I'm used to seeing chickadees approach suet by landing on the suet holder, taking some and flying off to a twig to eat. But I've got a chickadee that takes suet while hovering in the air like a hummingbird. Have you ever heard of this?

A: I enjoyed your description of the hummingbird-like chickadee at your suet feeder. This proves the point that birds can teach themselves all sorts of new behaviors and their individual solutions to problems can be unique. I've never observed a chickadee hovering like this, but would love to do so.

Novel deterrent

Q: The local robin launched summertime window attacks from our deck, and year after year, no window treatment deterred him. As a last resort I picked up a handful of rubber lizards and dinosaurs at a dollar store, placed them on the deck railing, and voilà, no more robin problems. Five bucks bought an easy solution, with no apparent effects on our goldfinches and chickadees. Am I missing a downside?

A: What a creative solution to a persistent problem. I don't see any negatives here and this might be something other readers with window-bashing birds could try.

Woodpecker treats

Q: I recently started putting a seed mix in my feeder and so many more birds are visiting that I have to fill it three times as often. And there's a woodpecker that comes every day. I've never seen one at the feeder before, is it unusual?

A: Woodpeckers, particularly downy and hairy woodpeckers, frequently visit feeders that offer the foods they prefer, such as black oiler sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts and suet. If your mix includes some of these, and possibly other nuts and dried fruits, it's no wonder woodpeckers are showing up.

Clean is good

Q: How important is it to open up birdhouses to clean them out after birds leave?

A: I'd say it's very important to have nest boxes that can be opened up and whisked out after young birds depart. Such cleaning helps prevent a buildup of harmful insects in the box, and a clean box creates a healthier situation for the next bird family using it. Bluebirds and house wrens raise two sets of youngsters in nest boxes or tree holes each summer, and will appreciate starting fresh.

Disappearing eggs

Q: A mallard built her nest very close to our house about three weeks ago and has been sitting on the eggs. But a few days ago I found several eggs out in the lawn and now several more have disappeared. Could the neighbor's dog be removing the eggs, and when should the remaining ones hatch?

A: It takes about four weeks for a duck's eggs to produce ducklings, so the ones in your yard are almost ready. However, ground-nesting birds, like this duck, are vulnerable to predators like raccoons, foxes, skunks, squirrels and even crows. I suspect that a crafty raccoon has been showing up at night to carry off some of the hen's eggs.

Labor saver

Q: Is it unusual for a mourning dove to take over a robin's old nest?

A: Most mourning doves build their own nests, but these are known to be flimsy affairs, barely holding their chicks as they develop. What a smart thing for the dove in your backyard to do, saving on nest building and providing a sturdier structure than its own nest would be. The only drawback might be that as the young doves grow they'll probably become too large for the robin nest, and may end up perching on the edge.

Bubbly song

Q: We put up a wren house, but now are kind of wishing we hadn't because they sing so persistently all day long!

A: Yes, I have a friend who says that before buying a wren house you should decide whether you enjoy their effervescent song, because you're going to hear it all day long during nesting season. A male continues to sing even after the female begins sitting on eggs, perhaps hoping to attract additional females to his territory.

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