With summer vacations upon us, readers seem to have more time to write letters. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I've answered lately.
Do you recommend feeding birds in summer?
I feed birds year round, though I scale back during the summer. Summer feeding does not make birds dependent on feeders or delay migration. Right now I offer nyjer for finches, nuts for woodpeckers and nuthatches, and black-oil sunflower seed, white millet, and live mealworms for all. My favorite reason for feeding in the summer is to watch adult birds bring their young to the feeders. I buy mealworms from Rainbow Mealworms (800-777-9676; www.rainbowmealworms.com). .
Exclude them: How do I keep pigeons, grackles, and other large birds off my feeders?
Physically exclude them. This can be done with feeders that come enclosed in a wire cage; small birds easily pass through the wire, while bigger birds are excluded. Or make your own excluder cages with chicken wire.
Why am I seeing so few hummingbirds this year?
Hummingbird numbers fluctuate naturally from year to year. Every year some people have lots of hummers and some have few, or even none. This is normal. Hummers return to the same place each year, so if the hummers from your neighborhood died over the winter or during migration, perhaps during a storm, your local population will suffer.
Is it unusual for birds other than hummingbirds to drink nectar?
Though nectar feeders are intended for hummingbirds and orioles, dozens of other species develop a taste for sugar water. House finches, chickadees, tanagers, and a variety of warblers are just a few of the birds that sip nectar.
When should hummingbird feeders be taken down?
Though adult male hummers begin to head south in mid-August, females and young don't leave until September. And hummingbirds from points north continue to move through well into October. With that in mind, I keep my feeders filled until I don't see any hummers for at least a week. That's usually mid-October.
Insect problems: What can I do about bees and wasps at my nectar feeders?
Bees and wasps can be a real problem at nectar feeders, and most bee guards are ineffective.
A new feeder by Aspects, Inc. (1-888-ASPECTS), the HummZinger II, comes equipped with & quot;Nectar Guards, & quot; and they really work. I've been using this feeder for two years, and no longer have a bee problem. Nectar Guards are small, pliable nipples that fit on the inside of the feeding ports that prevent insects from reaching the nectar, but a hummer's long bill easily passes through the barrier.
Why haven't I seen any butterflies using my butterfly house?
A butterfly house is an artificial hollow tree designed to provide refuge for those few species that overwinter as adults. This list includes mourning cloaks, commas, question marks, and some other woodland species.
Unfortunately, the most familiar and spectacular butterflies such as monarchs and swallowtails do not use these houses. A butterfly house is best thought of as an attractive garden ornament. If butterflies actually use it, consider that icing on the cake. .
I live in bear country. How can I bear-proof my bird feeders?
If bears discover your feeders, the only solution is to take them down at night. If a bear can reach a feeder, it will destroy it. .
Stopping wrens: How can I stop house wrens from driving bluebirds from my nest boxes?
If house wrens are competing with bluebirds for nest boxes, the boxes are placed too close to brushy vegetation. Bluebirds prefer open habitat, while wrens prefer dense vegetation. To discourage the wrens simply move the boxes farther out in an open area. If boxes are at least 50 yards from thickets, the wren problem will probably disappear.
What field guides to do recommend?
For kids and beginners, the little Golden Guides, which have been around since I was a kid, are terrific. Butterflies and Moths is my favorite. For more advanced students of natural science, I recommend Houghton Mifflin's Peterson series.
My favorite field guides to birds are Kenn Kaufmann's Birds of North America (Houghton Mifflin) and National Geographic's Field Guide to the Birds of North America (3rd edition).