Nature Watch: The invasion of the tomato snatchers


Q: Any idea what's raiding the gardens and eating a half a tomato just as it starts to ripen?

-- Dave, Pittsfield

A: Some animal. I am not trying to be funny, it is just that the information is too vague to give an answer. My guess, though, is that it is the gray squirrel. It could be one or two, and probably no more, or all tomatoes would disappear.

Last summer, we had two patio tomatoes growing by our deck, and the very same thing happened repeatedly. Never, it appeared, did a whole tomato vanish, except for a few small pixie tomatoes. I drew my conclusion after observing the culprit destroy the crop, one tomato at a time. I also suspect that it is an acquired taste, as this never happened when we lived in Dalton, although the Milltown rodents did destroy a Jack-o-lantern or two. And my friend Sandy in Plainfield watched a squirrel take apples from a tree and "stuff" them into a hollow of another tree.

Although not fussy eaters, most gray squirrels will turn up their nose to safflower seeds, making it a good choice for attracting a wide variety of winter songbirds, but there are exceptions. When we moved to Pittsfield, we noticed a squirrel or two did not respect the ban on safflower seed, forcing us to get squirrel-proof feeders.

Q: I have been told that there is only one kind of hummingbird in Massachusetts. Why is it I see some with red throats, others with black throats and yet others with white throats?

-- Louise, North Adams

A: It is true "we" usually have only one species of hummingbird east of the Mississippi, the ruby-throated hummingbird. It is the only species that breeds in the East. In recent years, other species have occasionally been seen. And following fall migration, a few Western birds have been reported in the East. Several species have occurred in late fall, early winter in the Berkshires. Apparently, these birds are confused and fly east rather than south. No doubt the hummingbirds you see are all the ruby-throated. White throats indicate females or juvenile birds, while the ruby red or black indicated male birds. It is only in sunlight that the ruby shows; in poor light it appears black.


I have a question: Sometimes I can't answer a reader's question and rely on friends and acquaintances, like David St James (for plants and birds), Lisa Provencher (insects and arthropods), Tom Tyning from Berkshire Community College (for a wide variety of subjects), Tony Gola and Peter Mirick from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and several others (for just about everything else).

I have a puzzle of my own, and don't know who to ask. Now that we are in midsummer, I suspect the return of ring-billed gulls suggests their nesting is over for the year. Why is it that those I see from our deck stay on the north side of Crane Avenue in Pittsfield on the golf course (GEAA) property, rarely venturing, from my vantage point, far from the first tee? Why don't they cross the road to do whatever they do, on the far quieter Greencroft Property across the road? Never once have I seen a single gull on this side of the road.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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