Andrea and Terry Grabill answer your latest avian queries
Is there something in the bird world akin to Bigfoot?
A mysteriously rumored but never confirmed sighting of a heretofore unnamed feathered fowl?
A mysterious bird is an excellent question! I think it would be great if there was a bird of folklore that’s elusive and a great hide-and-seek champion like Sasquatch. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate such a beast...or even reports of one! The more I considered it, though, one did come to mind that many young campers were encouraged to hunt that might have been categorized as mythical.
The Grabill family spent a lot of time in the north woods camping in the 1970s and on numerous occasions, my brother and I were told to go on a snipe hunt. In hind-sight, I suspect the invitation probably came from parents desperate for some time without whining kids who had a never-ending supply of demands and questions. If memory serves, we were instructed to sit in the brush with a paper grocery bag which, when tapped with a twig, would be irresistible to snipes. I still remember wondering what the heck we would do with a snipe once we caught it.
As a young adult, mythology met reality as I watched small, long-billed birds fly over a marsh on Beaver Island giving a magical courtship dance and “song”. Dr. Hamas, our ornithology professor, identified them as Wilson’s snipe (was I being punked again?) Turns out these are REAL birds and not uncommon at all! They are members of the sandpiper family, named for famed ornithologist Alexander Wilson, and their courtship dance and “song” is a sight to see. The song isn’t a vocalization at all, rather, it’s sound produced by air rushing through its outer tail feathers as they fly. This “winnowing” is one of nature’s ethereal sounds that you’ll not soon forget. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wilsons_Snipe/sounds#
What should people look for in bird seed? What attracts the greatest variety?
Backyard birders will eventually develop their own preferences and recipes for the “best seed offering” for their feeders. Andrea and I feed black oil sunflower seeds and woodpecker suet cakes year-round. Our sunflower feeders are visited by northern cardinals, black-caped chickadees as well as nuthatches and woodpeckers. Gardeners that are opposed to the shells left behind under sunflower seed feedings may prefer to use shelled seeds. Safflower seed is also a popular offering among birders and birds alike. Check out our “These Two BirdGoobers” podcast at the following link for a more detailed listing! https://www.birdgoober.com/podcast
There are many seasonal choices as well. In winter, we supply Nyger seed (often called thistle) for winter finches such as American goldfinch, house finch and northern irruptive species like redpolls, purple finches and pine siskins. In warmer seasons, halved oranges are great for orioles and sugar-water feeders attract hummingbirds.
If you’re interested in a cool winter project, take a look at this BirdGoober video describing the process of making home-made suet cakes!
BirdGoober is Terry and Andrea Grabill, of Newaygo. They have been birding together since they met and love to share their passion for birds with people of all ages. Please send your birding questions to the Grabills at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website www.birdgoober.com.
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