How ducks are allowed to take off

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Q: I’ve seen a lot of mallards take off from ponds and lakes, but I can’t figure out how they do it. Can you explain?

A: Most waterfowl must cross the surface of the water to reach take-off speed (think loons), but mallards and some other dabbling ducks can launch directly from the water into the air. You’ve probably seen a group of mallards suddenly take off when they’ve been frightened, their wings clattering loudly as they take flight. They are able to do this because their first wing beat pushes against the surface of the water, propelling them into the air, then they flap vigorously to rise and reach flight speed.

Orioles and tallow?

Q: I didn’t know orioles ate suet, but a female oriole visited my suet feeder in early June. Have you heard of that?

A: When wild creatures have to endure long cold spells like the ones we experienced this spring, they get creative to find enough calories to survive. Your female oriole was smart to try your suet, then keep coming back for more. This food approximates the insect protein it would consume in a warmer spring. I noticed orioles and yellow-rumped warblers gobbling up my suet this spring, as well as catbirds and robins. Even the cardinals, with their overly large beaks, tried to stage themselves at the suet cage.

Populations in free fall?

Q: It seems to me that the bird population is down this year. We don’t see the usual number of birds at our birdbath and it seems oddly quiet there.

A: I think many of us have heard so much about all the negative things that happen to the natural world, most of them man-made, that we have legitimate fears about the survival of birds and other living beings. I heard from several Star Tribune readers this spring who lamented the lack of birds in their backyards. But I also heard many more reporting an abundance of birds everywhere they looked.

Major radar services that track migration, especially Bird Cast, have reported huge, almost unprecedented flocks of migrating birds this spring. These happened later in the season than usual, but once they started moving there were nights with hundreds of millions of birds flying across the country after dark of the night. I found these reports very reassuring and hope you can rest easy knowing that nothing serious has happened to reduce bird populations so suddenly. However, we must all do everything possible to reduce the constant and alarming negative trends in the populations of birds and other creatures.

So many turkeys

Q: Every time I drive down the river road near the University of Minnesota, I see turkeys strutting around, and this year there seem to be more of them than ever. Is it unusual?

A: There have been wild turkeys along this section of East River Road for a few years, and they are also becoming more common in the metro area. Prior to 1970, when the Department of Natural Resources began reintroducing wild turkeys to the state, turkeys were a rare sight. But as the population grew, these large birds found that cities and suburbs met their needs for food and shelter, and predators were few. However, with coyotes now moving into cities and suburbs, there may be some impact on the urban turkey population.

eat like a bird

Q: How much food do birds eat per day?

A: Good question, and it turns out that birds, with their high internal body temperatures and rapid metabolisms, need to eat comparatively more than mammals. And smaller birds need more calories, relative to their body weight, than larger birds. A tiny black-capped chickadee, weighing less than half an ounce, spends much of its day capturing insects and spiders and pecking open seeds to fill a food budget of around 35% of its body weight. . Cooper’s hawk, a species that weighs just over a pound, eats about 12% of its body weight each day. And the little ruby-throated hummingbird, weighing 1/10e of one ounce, consumes 100% of its weight in nectar and insects each day.

Falcons in helicopter

Q: I love watching the red-tailed hawks hunt; their flight is so elegant. Sometimes they seem to stop and float in the air. Is this normal?

A: You are very observant, and yes, these handsome falcons are all-around aerial hunters. They can spend hours on a power pole, waiting for a small rodent to move. But they can also spend a lot of time in the air, hanging in the wind without flapping their wings. This is called kiting and the hovering hawk keeps its eyes on the ground, looking for prey. If a vole or a small rabbit passes below, the hawk will fold its wings and quickly fall to catch it.

Not in the books

Q: A bird recently showed up at our feeders, and we cannot find it in any of our bird books or online. We hope you can help identify it.

A: It’s no surprise that this bird doesn’t show up in field guides, because the photo you sent shows a canary, most likely an escaped cage bird. This little finch’s ancestors originated from islands off the west coast of Africa and it won’t survive long as winter approaches. How about trying to capture and keep it yourself or bring it to the Animal Humane Society for placement?

Several years ago a parakeet appeared at my feeders in late summer. After doing some research online, most of which indicated that the bird would be nearly impossible to capture, I decided to give it a try. I bought an inexpensive birdcage from a pet store, filled it with sunflower and safflower seeds, and hung it on a shepherd’s hook outside with the cage door open. The parakeet seemed interested but would never enter the cage. A friend who had birds recommended adding a millet spray to the cage, and that was the answer. The bird returned time and time again to feed on millet seeds so intensely that I was able to sneak in and close the cage door. A friend who kept birds offered to take this one, and it spent several years in his care. I encourage you to give it a try and would love to know how things turn out.

St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who volunteers with the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for a number of newspapers and magazines, can be reached at [email protected].

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