Q: I live in the forest in Richmond, and all summer I heard only one pronounced sound from the dark woods in the middle of the night. It sounds like a loud cheep! cheep! Then once the animal calls another responds. Do you know what it is?
-- Jennifer, Richmond
A: I really cannot say for sure. My first guess, and I will stay with that, is the gray tree frog. Perhaps other "forest residents" hear this also, and can contribute ideas.
Q: We have noticed birds returning to nest box on our property the past few days. It is way too late to nest. So why?
-- Edward, Williamstown
A: Some birds, such as bluebirds, may roost in boxes as well as nest in them. Also, the length of daylight now being similar to that of spring confuses some birds, and they think it is spring, but not for long. Q: For the past few mornings we have observed the oddest thing -- a non-descript gray-brown bird about the size of a redwing, has been begging food from a mourning dove. The odd part of this is the dove is feeding it! Can you explain?
-- Rosemary, Pittsfield
A: There can be little doubt that the dove has been duped! The fledgling is a cowbird and its parents "flew the coop," not looking back after the female laid her egg in the nest of this mourning dove. As often, and probably more often, a much smaller bird’s nest will get the egg. And when it hatches, it will overpower its much smaller nest mates that will be smothered, starved or tossed out of the nest.
According to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, "Cowbird eggs hatch faster than other species eggs, giving cowbird nestlings a head start in getting food from the parents. Young cowbirds also develop at a faster pace than their nest mates, and they sometimes toss out eggs and young nestlings or smother them in the bottom of the nest."
Brown-headed cowbirds are parasites, and the females forgo building nests and instead produce eggs, sometimes 36 or more in a season, and leave it up to the "host" parents to raise. The term "nondescript" you used for the young bird works equally well for the female cowbird also. The male though, is black with a contrasting brown head. It is said they lay eggs in nests of more than 200 species of birds. Hard to believe.
Recycle! While many of us, renters and homeowners alike, recycle, such is not always the case in housing complexes and large apartment buildings. One, for instance, Central Annex on Second Street, Pittsfield, provides much needed affordable housing, but no opportunity to recycle glass, plastic or paper. There must be a way to change this! I only single out Central Annex because one of its residents phoned me recently complaining of the situation.
Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com