Q: Will a robin use the same nest twice to lay her eggs? It may not be the same robins, although, they do all look the same. Robins have used the same nest twice this summer. Could it be the same pair?
— Maryanne, Stockbridge
A: Many, if not most songbirds, raise but one brood a summer in the Berkshires and will use a nest only once, starting over if a second brood is in the offing.
The American robin will fledge young one, two or in some years, maybe three times, and may use the same nest with repairs or additions.
A number of years ago I came across statistics for young robins, indicating few hatchlings survive long enough to breed. Our robin can produce three successful broods in one year, although on average, only 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. And only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next. Not very high statistics for such common birds.
Q: In a recent column, you mention another disease that may require our taking down bird feeders. It is not here yet. My question is, where is it?
— Bonnie, Pittsfield
A: According to a Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife advisory: “In late May, wildlife managers in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs. More recently, additional reports have been received from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.
“While the majority of affected birds are reported to be fledgling common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, and American robins, other species of songbirds have been reported as well. No definitive cause(s) of illness or death have been determined at this time.”
Update from July 30: "MassWildlife would like to thank the public for their cooperation in removing bird feeders and birdbaths, and thank all those who have taken the time to submit reports of dead birds over the past several weeks. MassWildlife biologists have been closely monitoring all reports of sick and dead birds. To date, no large-scale mortality events have been reported in Massachusetts.” (mass.gov/news/advisory-report-dead-birds-and-remove-feeders)
I checked earlier (on Aug. 16) with Marion Larson, chief of information and education for MassWildlife, who said, “Regarding the bird illness, no update since July 30 … we will continue to stay in contact with the relevant wildlife disease groups and provide updates when there is new information.”
Q: While fishing along the causeway on Onota Lake this morning (Aug. 16), I saw two large dragonflies dive-bombing each other. They had no interest in me and got pretty close. They both had black patches on the wings.
— Mark, Lenox
A: I may have seen one last Sunday while kayaking on Pontoosuc Lake. What you saw may have been a twelve-spotted skimmer. At the time of my sighting, I may have misidentified the one I caught a glimpse of as a ten-spotted skimmer (probably no such creature), This is a large dragonfly (wingspan some 3 inches) and, a very territorial insect. The actions of the two skimmers you saw, may well suggest the species, provided they were both males and looked alike.
Q: Besides milkweed, is there any plant that caterpillars will eat? I have several common milkweed (left) for caterpillars if they use them. There are several monarchs hanging around and have been for a few weeks, although, I don’t know if they are the same monarchs. Also, what eats the milkweed plants in one night?
— Milkweed Fan, Adams
A: And as to other plants, monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed.
It takes between 28 to 32 days between egg and adult for monarch butterflies. The average time is 30 days. Keep looking for eggs and keep track. As for some animal that will eat a milkweed in one night, especially young succulent plants, blame the cottontail.
Monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains used to number in the hundreds of millions, but the population has declined by approximately 80 percent. I have not seen any current statistics but will let you know when we have one.
Q: A reader from Dalton inquired about an odd occurrence that she and her husband discovered upon returning home following a brief vacation. The solar lights along a path were pulled from the ground, and the pointed tips that facilitate insertion into the lawn were chewed off. Her question, one that I share, is what animal did this?
— C. D., Dalton
A: Dear Readers, any suggestions?