Nature In Our Backyards
Q: It’s autumn and I have not seen a squirrel for at least a couple of weeks. A friend across town mentioned that he was discussing the same thing with a neighbor. My lawn and surrounding woods are ripe with acorns and beech nuts but strangely no squirrels. In the 26 years I’ve lived here we’ve had them all over the place until now. Is there a reason for this?
A: We asked Jamie Fischer, a mammologist at White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield. Here’s what Jamie said: “I’ve heard this recently, as well. I’ve also heard this observation at this time of year in the past, several times in fact. Nevertheless, the squirrels always seem to come back in numbers and by December I get calls about how to remove them from homes, bird feeders, etc. It is tough to say what is happening now because there are so many factors that can be attributed to these observations throughout the state. The acorns and other mast are ripening and the squirrels are hoarding this important food resource for the winter months. This process requires a great deal of their time and energy. Another factor that may be affecting their behavior is that the state is inundated with raptors during their migration. Although only a few animals might be removed from local populations each year, the persistent aerial predator threat might keep them under cover or in other safe places. Diseases or poisons are always a possibility but without examining carcasses it would be difficult to prove.”
Q: The Osprey nesting platform in my neighborhood has fallen over. Who can help erect it again?
A: Osprey platforms are erected and maintained by private citizens (or municipalities) under permit from DEEP. The state should have a record of who erected the Seaside Ave. platform, unless someone put it up before the permitting process began. At any rate, an interested private citizen or the Town should be able to place a new one in the same location, but should check with DEEP first. (860)675-8130.
Q: I saw robins in my back yard in early winter and I’m concerned that it’s too early for them to be here. Is it? If so is there anything I can do to help them or feed them?
A: American Robins are year-round Connecticut residents. Some migrate south each fall and return in the spring, some stay here, and others join us from the north in the winter then leave for the nesting season. They flock together for feeding and protection and are thus seen less frequently than individuals and pairs in warm seasons. They’re fine feeding on their own with berries of various types as a primary food source.
Q: I found an injured bird in my yard. What should I do with it?
A: Our Centers are not able to take care of sick, injured, or orphaned birds or other animals. Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection has information on [Common Wildlife Problems], which will tell you what you can do when you find an injured animal. If you find a baby bird out of its nest, leave it alone, or put it back near the nest.
Q: We have a “barn house” and a Downy Woodpecker is creating a hole at the north corner of our home. It has already gone through the wood siding and Tyvek! Chasing him away is good for a couple of hours. HELP us if you have any remedies.
A: This is a common fall problem with young woodpeckers trying to find food resources. They tap on something wooden and if it sounds hollow they assume that insects are inside.
1. Hang a plastic owl with an eye screw directly over the damage zone.
2. Cover the area with a large sheet of polypropelene plastic using push pins.
3. Remove all tree branches and bushes close to the damage zone so the woodpecker has no convenient cover nearby.
These are our standard suggestions. One or all will work about 75 percent of the time.
Q: I live near a wooded area and have a small field nearby. My neighbors and I have seen what we think is a coyote several times in our backyards. As we both have small children and dogs, should we take steps to protect ourselves, and who can we call on to help?
A: You may be correct. The eastern coyote is on the increase all across the Northeast, and is well established in Connecticut. It has been widely reported that coyotes attack dogs and cats, as well as domestic livestock. Although this has undoubtedly occurred, it is certainly not common. Eastern coyotes eat a diverse number of plants, animals, and insects. From grasshoppers to fallen fruit, winter-killed deer, mice, squirrels, and woodchucks, coyotes are opportunists willing to take advantage of nearly any available food source. They are also highly intelligent canines that habituate fairly quickly to people where they are not persecuted. Thus, these animals are not afraid to expose themselves to view and sometimes even seem curious about human affairs. As with all wild animals, it is unwise to approach, feed, or try to touch coyotes. You should be aware that coyotes are in your area, but do not be alarmed. Small pets should not be left alone unprotected or unsupervised anyway, coyotes or no. If you are having persistent coyote or other wildlife problems of one sort or another, visit the CT DEP’s “Wildlife” website section for information about what to do.
Q: A pigeon has arrived in my yard that is very friendly and apparently can’t fly. It is banded. What should I do?
A: This bird is probably lost from a local (or sometimes very distant) pigeon club. Racing homing pigeons is a very popular pastime in the Northeast, and several clubs in our area get their birds together every weekend during the warm months, truck them out to Ohio, and release them for the race home, where club members have gathered for the event. These events are very well-coordinated with sealed timers at the coop entrance, and in some cases, electronic scanners that monitor and identify birds as they enter the coop. The birds are well-bred for flying, are hand-reared, and often quite tame. It is not unusual for a bird or two to run low on energy on the home flight, especially if they encounter poor weather. In such cases, the bird usually ends up on someone’s doorstep without enough energy to carry on, looking for some food. You can identify these birds right away, as they are usually banded on both legs and appear quite tame. Based on the letter code on the bands, we sometimes can identify the pigeon’s owner, but past experience has shown us that most owners want nothing further to do with birds that can’t make it. We now advise people to offer the bird food (cracked corn, bird seed, cracker crumbs, etc.) and water for a day or so, then release the bird somewhere where there are lots of other pigeons, like a town park or highway overpass, in the hope that it will return to its own coop and not your backyard again. Therefore it is important not to keep it around for more than a day or so, to prevent it imprinting on your yard as its new home coop.
Q: When should I start feeding birds, and what is the best seed?
A: Recent research has shown that since birds do not use feeders as their sole means of support, it is acceptable to feed birds whenever you like and as often as you like. For instance, we used to think that it was not a good idea to feed birds throughout the summer or to stop a feeding program in winter to go on vacation. We now know that both are perfectly fine. As for the best seed: We suggest using a high-quality mix containing sunflower, white millet, safflower, and peanut hearts; you may be spending a bit more, but will be wasting far less seed than with the discount mixes. Don’t forget to hang a suet cake and provide some water as well. To purchase the best quality bird seed at great prices, contact our Center at Fairfield’s Nature Store, at 203-259-6305, ext. 109; our Birdcraft Museum in Fairfield’s Nature Store, at 203-259-0416; or our Center at Glastonbury, at 860-633-8402
Q: This is the first year I have bluebirds visiting my bird feeders. However, I have found three adult bluebirds dead in my yard with no sign of predator involvement. What could be the cause?
A: I can only guess that the persistent cold weather has reduced the insect availability and perhaps the birds perished due to the lack of food resources, but this is only a guess.