Q: We want to put up a feeder for the hummingbirds that we saw in our yard last midsummer feeding on flowers. My two questions are when should we put the feeder up and rather than buy the special red sugar solution can we make our own? I recall you mentioning in a piece you wrote last year that it is crucial to change it with fresh often.
— Sid P.
A: These are among the most often-asked questions I get, and the first question is easy to answer. The ruby-throated hummingbird arrives in The Berkshires if that is where you live, in early May, although there are some recent records for late April. So to be on the safe side, I will say late April, although on average, it will be later. In recent years I have been saying “by May 1.”
"In Birds of Berkshire County" by Bartlett Hendricks, he writes “Season: May 15 (May 2) to late September (Oct. 6).” The dates in parenthesis indicated the then earliest and latest dates seen. Now it is not unusual for them to be seen on or close to May Day and as late as Oct. 10 or a little later.
As for the solution, that should be replaced at least once a week, or more during hot weather, is easy enough to mix up. The ingredients are water and granulated sugar. No red food coloring is needed! Mix one cup of sugar to four cups of water; no more, no less. I tend to heat the water to near boiling and mix in the sugar. This allows the sugar to dissolve more quickly.
I have been making one quart at a time and keep the remainder in the refrigerator, as I have two only feeders and competition is rare, as our next door neighbors, Alan and Leona Hall, also have feeders. For more feeders or heavy feeding, you would make a larger quantity.
Q: Since the sun began warming the windows in our old farmhouse that is new to us, we have been getting larger than normal houseflies — the usual summer houseflies, anyway. What is the reason? One other thing, they seem to be easier to swat than those later in the season. Is there a reason?
— Patricia, Pittsfield
A: Th reason that there are any differences is that they are different species. These larger flies are called cluster flies, and along the line of the stink bugs and Asian multi-colored lady beetles (wrongly called ladybugs), they squeeze into the house for a warmer place to spend the cold winter months.
Sometimes found congregating together, hence the name “cluster,” they are attracted to both warmth and light, and that is why we see these insects in sunny windows. Sometimes about the same time, lady beetles begin showing themselves. (By the way, there are also male lady beetles.) Many are still lethargic when they start showing up, possibly why they are so easy to swat.
On the plus side, this species is thought no to carry disease. And these flies do not multiply inside, so they are trying to get out somehow. They found their way in last autumn, so they will find their way out, given time. I sometimes open the window and let the intruders out.
In my first April column, the following appeared under the column name, Ask Mr. Smith, on April Fool’s Day 1979, making this the column’s 42nd April.
In that column, under the heading For our musical friends, I wrote, "Houseflies hum on F above middle C. Incidentally, to produce this tone, their wings are beating at 335 times a second."
According to The Journal of Social Science, both bumblebees and honey bees “hum” on the same scale as houseflies.
(This has nothing to do with Patricia’s question.)
Q: My wife was recently diagnosed with Lyme disease. We have a lot of deer cut though our big backyard (counted nine one evening!) Is there a spray I could put down on the lawn?
FYI, she had no symptoms except achy joints, which she attributed to age/arthritis. Only found out from a blood test!
— Bob, Williamstown
A: I will have to pass this question along to readers. I have seen various advertisements of late, but have no personal interaction with any. Ticks are more commonly found in tall grass, weeds, shrubs, and far less on mowed lawns. Perhaps someone with knowledge of the subject will assist us.
Q: I’m wondering if I could “pick your brain” about local wildlife. I am part of a writing team that is writing a book about the history of Richmond Pond. One of the chapters talks about the wildlife that’s been around the pond, both in the past and now. Not sure if you’d be willing to share what you know.
My husband, John, and I live year-round here on the lake, and we certainly have a lot of wildlife. But I’m looking for a bit more expertise as to varieties of birds, mammals, what started out here perhaps way back before settlers and so on.
If you have anything you want to share, please let me know.
— Valeri R, Richmond
A: I will check several volumes I own that may include such information as may interest you, and if I find anything I will give you a phone call. In the meantime, perhaps our readers can be helpful.
MIGRATORY BIRD TREATY ACT UPDATE
I read in a recent Hoffmann Bird Club eNews letter an update from the Massachusetts Association of Bird Clubs on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act:
In January 2020, our association joined many other regional and national organizations to oppose a Trump administration policy that weakened and undermined the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Biden administration has just revoked this policy. On MassBird Barbara Volkle posted the two links below to reports of the story: pbs.org/newshour/politics/trump-policy-that-weakened-wild-bird-protections-is-revoked and huffpost.com/entry/biden-scraps-trump-migratory-bird-legal-opinion_n_60463e28c5b6020855607f51