Where should I place the bluebird nest box? Why don’t goldfinches come to my feeders anymore? 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: What is the best way to attract bluebirds to my backyard, and where should I place the nest box? —Liza Peniston of Augusta, Kansas
Kenn and Kimberly: You can put out mealworms for bluebirds, but the best methods involve foods in nature. Bluebirds feed heavily on insects they find on or near the ground, so avoid treating your lawn with chemicals. During the colder months they’ll eat mainly fruits and berries, so planting native trees and shrubs that bear fruit is a wonderful way to provide food. They also love birdbaths, and if you can make the water move—even if you just add a small dripper—that’s better still. Bluebirds prefer large expanses of short grass. Place nest boxes in the most open area possible, away from your house or deep shade. (Read more: How to Attract Bluebirds)
Question: I didn’t see a single goldfinch, purple finch or rose-breasted grosbeak at my feeders last spring, but I used to see them all the time. Do birds regularly move to new locations? —Paula Forsythe of Camp Douglas, Wisconsin
Kenn and Kimberly: Goldfinches and purple finches are famous for their wandering ways. They can be common one year and scarce or completely absent the next. Their numbers may change from month to month, or even from one day to the next. But even if they disappear for a while, there’s a good chance they’ll come back. Rose-breasted grosbeaks aren’t usually so unpredictable, so if they’ve disappeared from your yard, we wonder if the habitat has changed. Your own yard may look the same, but check the surrounding neighborhood. If there are fewer trees now, it might be less attractive to the grosbeaks. (Read more: How to Attract Goldfinches With Your Garden)
Question: I spotted this bird in my backyard near a warbler, but I couldn’t identify its species. What kind of bird is it? —Sandra Castle of Vero Beach, Florida
Kenn and Kimberly: This bird is also a warbler. It’s a palm warbler, a type that spends the summer in spruce forests and bogs in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S., migrating south to spend the winter in the southeastern states and around the Caribbean. In Florida, it’s the second-most common warbler seen in winter, after the yellow-rumped warbler. The keys to recognizing it in this photo are the yellow under the tail and the reddish brown cap. Palm warblers often spend time on the ground, hopping about and bobbing their tails up and down. (Read more: 10 Spring Warblers You Should Know)