Why do my backyard birds like my neighbor’s feeders more than mine? Do birds dislike wheat? What is this weird bird in my backyard?!
Each month, Birds & Blooms readers send in their burning questions to birding experts, Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, who are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world.
Got a bird question for Kenn and Kimberly? Submit your questions here! They may appear here or in a future issue of the magazine.
Question: New neighbors moved in nearby and put up four feeders, but birds no longer visit my feeders. Will they ever come back? —Jill Sosnowski of Roscoe, Illinois
Kenn and Kimberly: Birds sometimes seem like fickle guests, jumping ship as soon as they get a better offer. About all you can do is provide high-quality bird food, keep your feeders clean and hope the birds rediscover your hospitality. Focus on seeds such as black oil sunflower and Nyjer (thistle), and try suet cakes hung on tree trunks. It helps if your feeders are fairly close to shrubs or trees so birds can quickly take cover if they feel threatened. And if you provide water in a birdbath that’s kept clean, all that might be enough to lure your birds back.
Question: I discovered this bird at my suet feeder. It stayed for three days. What is it, and should it have migrated to a warmer location? —Toni Douglas of Oak Harbor, Ohio
Kenn and Kimberly: What a nice find! The bird is a ruby-crowned kinglet, one of the smallest songbirds in North America, barely larger than a hummingbird. To identify this species, look for a tiny, thin bill; a broken white ring around the eye; and a pattern of stripes on the wing. (The ruby crown feathers mentioned in its name are only on the male, and are usually hidden by other feathers.) Most ruby-crowned kinglets go a little farther south for the winter, mainly to the southern U.S., with only a few remaining as far north as the Great Lakes. (Read more: How to Identify Mystery Birds)
Question: A bag of bird food that I bought (and later threw away) had wheat in it. None of my birds ate it. Even a flock of starlings over 100 strong left it on the ground. Is there something about wheat that birds don’t like? —Marilyn Michalls of Basehor, Kansas
Kenn and Kimberly: Some larger birds, such as quail and doves, readily eat wheat if nothing else is available. Blackbirds sometimes eat it as well. But generally it’s a last resort for most backyard birds. Wheat is often used as filler in some inexpensive seed mixes, but birds frequently just leave it on the ground where it goes to waste, as you’ve observed. We recommend reading the list of ingredients carefully before you purchase a mix. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s better to buy smaller quantities of high-quality seed and put out just a little at a time. (Read more: 10 Surprising Facts About Mourning Doves)
Question: Can you identify this bird? I spotted it at a local park. —Lou Stoker of Bakersfield, California
Kenn and Kimberly: This is an excellent photo of an adult black-crowned night-heron. It’s a species that is widespread in North America (and four other continents) but is easy to overlook. True to its name, it does a lot of its feeding at night, hunting along the water’s edge for minnows, frogs and crayfish. During the day, night-herons may simply rest in dense trees or thickets near the water. You were lucky to spot this one out in the open. (Read more: Night-Heron Species of North America)
Question: This bird was on my deck one winter morning and I can’t identify it. What is my mystery bird? —Linda Harbour of Wareham, Massachusetts
Kenn and Kimberly: Although it’s not a rare bird, the European starling can be confusing when you see a lone individual in its full winter plumage. Most of us are more accustomed to seeing starlings in large flocks, or during spring or summer when they’re more solidly black. In fresh winter plumage, the starling has a beautiful pattern, with tan edges on the wings and big tan and white spots all over. The starling’s shape, with spiky bill and short tail, helps to identify it in all seasons. (Read more: Meet Merlin: the Must-Have Bird ID App)