Is it common to see a pileated woodpecker at a feeder? How do I prevent spider infestations in stored birdseed? 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: I have a pileated woodpecker that comes to my suet feeder daily. I’ve never seen one at a feeder. Is this common? —Elaine Eikenberry of Spring Lake, Michigan
Kenn and Kimberly: To have North America’s largest woodpecker visiting your feeders on a daily basis is very special, so congratulations! Generally speaking, pileated woodpeckers are wary and elusive, and in most places they do not make a habit of visiting bird feeders. In areas where they’re more abundant, these magnificent birds are gradually becoming more acclimated to the presence of humans, losing some of their wariness and becoming easier to see. A few have even discovered the benefits of bird feeders, but this is still an uncommon sight. (Read more: How to Tell the Difference Between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers)
Question: This bird has me stumped. What is it? —Laura Veach of Macea, Kentucky
Kenn and Kimberly: This bird is potentially confusing because nothing else in your part of the country is quite like it. This brown thrasher is a distant relative of the northern mockingbird and the gray catbird. Like those birds, the brown thrasher has a fairly long tail, thin bill and interesting voice, but its color pattern is completely different. Its foxy-brown back and striped chest might suggest some kind of thrush or sparrow. Brown thrashers spend most of their time lurking in dense thickets; the male will perch up high to sing a series of rich, musical phrases, repeating each phrase twice. (Read more: How to Attract Brown Thrashers)
Question: Even though I store my birdseed in the original bag in a covered metal garbage pail, it is infested with small black spiders. How do I prevent this? —James Castner of Batavia, Illinois
Kenn and Kimberly: Your bugs sound like grain weevils (Sitophilus granarius), common pests of grains found in birdseed. The best way to keep out these invaders is to store birdseed in metal cans with lids. Since you’re already doing that, there’s a good chance the weevils were in your seed when you bought it. We’re often asked if it’s OK to feed bug-infested seeds to birds, and the answer is no. While many birds would certainly eat them, insects in birdseed usually indicate that the seeds are old and potentially moldy. It’s best to buy fresh seed from a reputable bird feeding store, and don’t hesitate to ask about the quality of the seed before you buy. (Read more: 3 Types of Seed Birds Love Best)
Question: I’ve lived in this house for 20 years and I’ve never seen this bird before. What could my new yard bird be? —Christal Knight of Palatka, Florida
Kenn and Kimberly: One of the most subtly colored birds in North America, lacking any distinctive pattern, the female brown-headed cowbird is a frequent source of confusion for birders. It’s easy to overlook, too. Male cowbirds are noisy and noticeable, but the females have a good reason to be inconspicuous: They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, sneaking in quietly while the nests’ owners aren’t looking. Female cowbirds are easiest to see when they come to a feeder, as in your photo. The short, thick, pointed black bill and overall plain gray-brown look are the best field marks for recognizing them.