Is it titmice or titmouses? How do I help an albino bird? Is it OK to add bacon grease to homemade suet? 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: In an ornithology college course, I was told that the plural of titmouse is always titmouses, not titmice. Which is correct? —Jim Worrell of Raleigh, North Carolina
Kenn and Kimberly: The word titmouse doesn’t have any connection to the rodent. Instead, the second syllable is based on the Old English word mase, which means “small bird.” Technically, there’s no reason why mouse and mice should match titmouse and titmice. A purist would probably say titmouses is correct. On the other hand, a couple of major dictionaries (and bird guides) give titmice as plural. So you can probably get away with either! (Read more! Attract Titmice to Your Backyard)
Question: Can I use leftover bacon grease mixed with seed as a suet for my backyard birds? —Clara Snyder of Joliet, Illinois
Kenn and Kimberly: Making your own suet can be rewarding, but there are a few important things to know before you begin. While lard is a safe alternative to rendered suet, avoid using bacon drippings. The chemical preservatives in commercial bacon become more concentrated once cooked. While this doesn’t pose a health threat to humans, it can be harmful to birds. Bread and table scraps should be avoided, too. (Read more! Suet Basics: How to Make Suet for Birds)
Question: There is an albino sparrow in my backyard. I’ve read albino birds have poor eyesight and are easy targets for predators. What can I do to help it? —Barbara Stone of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan
Kenn and Kimberly: If the white sparrow is a true albino with pink eyes, it probably does have poor eyesight. But if it has dark eyes, it’s likely leucistic, meaning that although it may lack pigment in its feathers, it can still see just fine. Despite its coloring, the sparrow could possibly live a long time. Not much can be done to help a bird like this beyond providing food, water and shelter. Roaming house cats are its most likely predators, so keep them indoors. (Read more! 5 Ways to Create a Bird-Safe Backyard)
Question: I took this photo at our bird feeder last October. Could this bird be a cross between a snow bunting and a redpoll? —Ken Thommes of Hillman, Minnesota
Kenn and Kimberly: This bird does suggest both a snow bunting and redpoll, but we believe it’s a purple finch with leucistic plumage, lacking dark pigments from some of the feathers. The bird is shaped like a purple finch, with a thick bill, long wingtips and a notched tail tip. The normal dark brown color shows on the tail and many wing feathers, and it looks red and pink in many of the same areas where you’d see those colors on an adult male purple finch. This leucistic bird is one of a kind! (Read more! All About Albinism in Birds)