Where did all my birds go?

Q: We find most of our daily pleasure watching the myriad of birds at our feeders. I've counted as many as 20 finches at one time. Three or four days ago, there were suddenly no visitors where woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, chickadees, etc., were so plentiful. The marigold patch beneath the feeders was squashed. We take in the feeders every night. What do you think the cause was?

— Pat, Dalton

A: I "see" a bear or some mammal, or mammals larger than mice or chipmunks, "squashing" the flowers gathering seeds that had fallen. Perhaps something like a gray squirrel or larger. As for the birds disappearing, it is more than likely a hawk found the possibility of easy dining at your feeders. This frightened off the birds, which are opportunists not really needing feeder food at this season of plenty. I can almost guarantee that by the time this answer appears in print, or even before, the hawk will be gone and the other birds will have returned.

I know that bees pollinate flowers, my question is, do butterflies?

— Judy, Pittsfield

A: As there are always exceptions to every rule, we can't assume that every species does, but, in general, the answer is yes, butterflies pollinate flowers. And they may even be even more important at spreading a plant's genes than bees as they travel greater distances searching for flowers with the most nectar. At least that is what my observations indicate. Bees, including bumble and honeybees, more often "work" individual flowers in a plant before searching another plant, while butterflies, and let's not forget moths, often fly from plant to plant.

Animals pollinate about 87 percent of the world's flowering plants, whether insects, mostly the butterflies and moths, bees and flies, and birds, among them hummingbirds, honey creepers and sunbirds to mention a few. Also, important in the tropics and sub-tropics are fruit-eating bats. Tequila (and fiber) from agave that grows in sub- and tropical Americas relies on long-nose bats. Although, not an animal, the wind also helps pollinate some species of plants (think of hay fever caused by pollen carried on summer breezes).


[Regarding the reader hearing unknown sounds after dark] I'm wondering if Nancy of Pittsfield might be hearing bats. She hears "want, want, want" and I consider bats flapping wings to say "phwit, phwit, phwit." Not so different. It's the cadence of the flapping that is distinctive and not silent.

— Arlene of Brattleboro, Vt.

Good suggestion, but Nancy emailed back saying that after reading my answer, she found sounds of the katydid on line and concluded that was what was making the sound.

Look to the stars

Interested in astronomy? Especially our solar system?

If so, check out the AstroShire County Project website, astroshire.blogspot.com, conceived, designed and built by Alexander Griffith for a Berkshire Community College Astronomy class project.

As a presenter at the Third Annual Berkshire Natural History Conference held this year at Berkshire Community College, I, the audience and other presenters had the opportunity to better understand the massive proportions of the solar system by bringing it to a more familiar scale — the size of Berkshire County with the Mount Greylock War Memorial at its center (think of the light at the top of the memorial as the sun). In this colorful presentation, Griffith had to bring all the planets to scale both in size and distance from the sun. In addition, he converted their orbital speed around the sun, in itself a surprise. This young man, in my opinion, will be reaching to the stars in the foreseeable future if he continues in his present trajectory. And he welcomes viewer comments at astroshire.feedback@gmail.com. Of course, the full impact of his presentation was encouraged along on stage by his vocal effects, formulas, comparisons and simple visuals — balloons.

He was in good company, sharing the stage with the likes of Ellen Kennedy and George Wislocki, co-founder of Berkshire Natural Resources Council and considered among the top people involved with the preservation of land in the Berkshires; Chip Blake, editor-in-chief of Orion magazine; James Cordoza, retired wildlife biologist for MassWildlife; Bob Leverett, co-founder and executive director of the Native Tree Foundation; Julie Richburg, western regional ecologist for The Trustees of Reservations; Dr. Joseph Kravits, adviser for the Liberal Arts Atmospheric Science Concentration at BCC, and Tom Tyning, professor of Environmental Sciences at BCC.

Thom Smith welcomes questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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