Nature Watch: Birds soon begin spring season arrivals


Q: With the changing seasons I bet you get many bird questions. We are new at bird feeding and watching and thrill at each new bird.

Last week there were redwings at our feeder and now there is a sparrow that has streaks on breast with a jumble like spot in the middle. Can it be a song sparrow? It isn't singing.

ANTHONY, Pittsfield

A: This is definitely the beginning of a most exciting time to watch birds. Soon, new birds will be arriving daily, if only for a visit, before they move on. Many will remain to breed, some having flown here from the tropics.

The sparrow you report is a song sparrow if by "jumble" you mean the stripes on the breast gather into a spot.

Other recently arrived song sparrows are singing, so I would think yours is, if it is a male. I would not expect it to sing at the feeder, and suggest you watch as it flies off to a nearby tree, or better yet a shrub, throws its head back and sings a cheerful song. I learned many years ago it could be translated as "maids, maids, hang up your tea kettle-etle-etle."

The problem with this rendition is that the song sparrow is as fickle as Berkshire weather and offers its song in many different renditions.

Look for a small brownish bird whose song begins with several "bright notes" and then follows with a series of warble-like trills. It may well be the male song sparrow. But remember it wasn't given the name song sparrow for no reason. A male may have close to a dozen different variations of the "maids, maids" song and doesn't easily tire of singing.

Q: Are coyotes active only at night? I saw what I suspected was one in a field last autumn in broad daylight.


A: The quick answer is that coyotes are opportunists and will be wherever and whenever dinner is served.

If that means following a farmer on his or her tractor haying a field, that is where the coyotes will be looking for mice.

Winter is the most difficult time of the year for coyotes, when they will take down a deer rather than starve, or clean the carcass of one that had died of starvation.

Over the spring and summer they feed primarily upon mice and other small rodents, berries, fruits and insects.

In autumn, believe it or not the coyote feeds largely upon grasshoppers!

Q: In plants like vegetables
and flowers, what if any, is the difference between a hybrid and a cultivar?

C. B., North Adams

A: As I understand it, a cultivar is a plant that because of certain desirable characteristics, such as larger or more prolific flowers, is propagated.

Hybrids occur when two different plants are cross-pollinated to produce yet another. A simple example is the loganberry produced by crossing a blackberry with a raspberry.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith:


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