Two topics dominate the mail I receive in April: maniacal birds inexplicably crashing into windows and questions about when hummingbirds will return. Today I'll address those two issues and recommend two timely new books.
Bob & amp; Louise Bodge of Moon Township, Pa. ask, "What causes a robin to repeatedly fly into a picture window? And, more importantly, is there anything we can do to stop the robin from doing that before it hurts itself? Nothing we've done has deterred the robin from its destructive behavior."
I hear some variation of this question repeatedly every spring. Cardinals seem the most frequent aggressors, but I've also seen blue jays, eastern bluebirds, chipping sparrows and eastern towhees attack their reflections. The behavior is odd, but not uncommon. For some reason some individuals become extremely aggressive during the breeding season and attack all intruders, including their own reflections. Some attack hubcaps and vehicle mirrors. Sometimes the attacks are so extreme the birds bloody themselves.
Here are two solutions. For every window that has a screen, be sure it's in place. A screen usually eliminates the reflection.
For larger windows that lack a screen, tie a series of feathers, spaced eight to 10 inches apart, on monofilament fishing line and tack it to the top of the exterior of the window frame. Space these strings of feathers 18 to 24 inches apart. Birds seem to avoid loose feathers because they associate them with predators and danger.
If you're not a do-it-yourselfer, you can buy Feather Guards ($6.99; www.featherguard.com). Conceived out of desperation by a New Jersey birder named Stiles Thomas, Feather Guard is simply a series of brightly colored feathers (dyed poultry feathers) fastened to a length of fishing line. Attached to the window pane with small suction cups, the feathers' color and motion warn birds away from the glass. Feather Guard has been field tested for several years and significantly reduced window strikes.
If birds attack their reflected image on a vehicle's rear view mirror, simply place a paper bag over the mirror when the car is parked.
The other frequently asked springtime question is, & quot;When should I put up nectar feeders for hummingbirds?" The short answer is, "Now."
If hummingbirds have not returned by the time you read this, they will within the next week. Clean your nectar feeders today, so your hummers aren't disappointed. The recipe is simple. Mix one part table sugar with four parts boiling water, cool and refrigerate. Red dye isn't necessary, and use only table sugar; no honey or artificial sweetener.
The spring chorus
The best part of April is the return of the spring chorus of bird song. If you're an early riser, crack your bedroom windows to enjoy nature's alarm clock as males sing to attract mates and defend their territories.
One of the pioneers of the study of bird song, Dr. Donald Kroodsma, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, has just written a book that explains many of the mysteries surrounding the vocalizations of birds. The Singing Life of Birds: the Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong (2005, $28.00, Houghton Mifflin) demystifies bird song with clearly written text, easy to understand sonagrams and a companion CD so the reader can hear exactly what the author describes. And you'll enjoy his tales of recording bird songs in the field, such as the night he tallied a whip-poor-will calling its name more than 20,000 times.
The perfect complement to Kroodsma's book is Birdsong: A Natural History (2005, $24.00, Schribner) by Don Stap. Birdsong is an excellent writer's take on the evolution of the science of bioacoustics as it relates to birds. Dr. Kroodsma and other leaders in the field are featured prominently, and Stap offers fascinating insights into the politics and machinations of academia. I found it a compelling read.
Read these two books, and you just might be tempted to replace your binoculars with a microphone and tape recorder.