Thom Smith: Readers ask about bird 'attacks', black squirrels

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Q: A female cardinal often bangs her head against (attacks?) some house windows and the side view mirrors on the car. The male cardinal never does that, nor do any of the other songbirds that gather around our feeder. Is she trying to drive away female competition?

— Paul, Lenox

A: I didn't expect female birds, but mostly males, foiling competition and I would have thought this would be somewhat early in the season. For the most part, male sparrows, robins and cardinals will foil competitors. I have sometimes heard of females partaking in jousting, although I didn't believe it. It is common among males and, apparently, rare among females, but it must happen, now that you confirm it. Try hanging plastic bag over mirrors when the car is parked in your yard to dissuade it, although the bird may resume by going after the hubcaps! Windows are more difficult. You must stop the reflection to stop the birds, male or female.

Q: It was still late January when a bear took down our bird feeder. I would have expected it might happen in March, but not late January. What's up?

— Alfred, Pittsfield

A: What's up? Global warming or an open winter with plenty of food available, i.e., bird feeders, dumpsters and trash cans placed out the night before pickup. As I mention from time to time, it is lack of food more than weather that keeps bears denned up.

Q: I liked your piece about chickadees pairing up in a recent column, but we still have some chickadees at the feeders, both the suet and the oil sunflower seed feeder. Are these unpaired chickadees?

— Reader in West Stockbridge

A: I wouldn't know for sure, but we, too, have chickadees coming to the feeders, just fewer in number.

Q: Is it too soon to plant milkweed seeds?

— Mary, Great Barrington

A: No, I would suggest, as soon as the soil can be lightly scratched. After all, they could also have been scattered last fall. Just barely cover the seeds.

Q: What happened to the black squirrels? We had two, and sometimes three, last summer and they left sometime in the fall.

— Phil, Great Barrington

A: My only guess, and it is a guess as I don't know the acorn mast in your neighborhood, is they moved to a more food lucrative location. Many of the black squirrels originally moved here because of overpopulation resulting in lack of nesting places or lack of food, or both.

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Our black squirrels moved here, over time from a feral population that was "planted' in Westfield. It all began in the late 1940s, when some of his salesmen brought Frank Stanley Beveridge, who founded Stanley Park, some black squirrels from Michigan. These black squirrels are gray squirrels, just a black color phase. It sounded like a good plan because only gray and red squirrels were found at the park. We wonder if the men knew that the black squirrels were gray squirrels or not, but after a couple tries, black squirrels began to thrive in the park, then move throughout Westfield, and then throughout southern New England. They moved west, reached the Berkshires and eventually were found in nearly all the Berkshire towns. Now they have even crossed over into eastern New York State and southern Vermont. I assume they are also in Connecticut and perhaps into New Hampshire.

Over the years since I first heard of black squirrels in Berkshire County, I conducted (through Naturewatch) several surveys and, in so doing, found that nearly every town in the county had them and, even more exciting, learned black color phase and normal gray color squirrels mated with mixed offspring.

EARTH DAY TURNS 50

April 22, 2020 marks 50 years of Earth Day. Have you any plans to celebrate it with family, girls or boys scout groups, or any other organizations, or school groups? Let Naturewatch know!

To join the Earth Day movement, go to www.earthday.org.

The theme of Earth Day is climate action. Keep that in mind as you take action for our planet. Here are eight things I thought of doing:

- Plant a tree.

- Buy another reusable shopping bag and keep it in your car. Remember not all communities have discontinued single-use bags.

- Construct a bug/bee hotel.

- Go meatless. Plan on going meatless a few days a week to start.

- Stop buying one-use bottles of water; refill the one you already have.

- Begin recycling if you already don't. If your community collects recyclables and has containers get them and use them.

- Encourage your place of work, or where you shop, to reduce paper and plastic waste.

- Walk or ride a bike instead of driving, or car pool if you are employed.

Can you think of eight more?

Thom Smith welcomes readers' comments and questions. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com.


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