For the Birds Radio Program: Questions about Birds

Original Air Date: Aug. 27, 1986

Laura’s been fielding questions listeners send about birds.

Duration: 3′09″


![American Goldfinch] ( “American Goldfinch”)
(Recording of a Canada Goose)

People have been asking me a lot of questions about birds lately. One woman writes, “I am aware that some (birds) go as far south as Florida and Louisiana, and some even across the equator. Now do these birds make a new family when they get down there where it is springlike weather?”

No, they don’t. None of our birds nest on their southern wintering grounds. Birds are so crowded in the tropics and sub-tropics in winter that competition is way too heavy to breed and raise babies. Some ornithologists think that a lot of Minnesota songbirds originated in the tropics, and began migrating to escape the competition during the breeding season.

Here’s another question: “I have heard that hummingbirds hitch rides on the shoulders of the wild geese as they go south. Do we have any proof of this?”

No, and ornithologists consider it very unlikely. Hummingbirds are aggressive toward other species, maybe because they are eaten by a lot of larger birds, including songbirds like orioles. Even a clumsy goose would eat a hummingbird given the chance, especially while migrating, when protein is crucial. Hummingbirds probably wouldn’t consider hitchhiking worth the risk.

Anyway, the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird is perfectly adapted for its long migration. It has relatively huge chest muscles for working its wings, and its stiff, pointed wing-shape is similar to falcons and other great flyers. And before it takes off on its non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico each spring and fall, it fuels up–increasing its body weight 50%!

Question: “Are there two very different sizes of Red-tailed Hawks? I seem to see both.”

Answer: There is only one species of Red-tailed Hawk, which is a huge bird. We do have a tiny hawk with a red tail–the American Kestrel. Some books call it a Sparrow Hawk. The kestrel often sits on telephone wires along roads, and sometimes hovers like a helicopter for a minute or two, examining a field for mice and grasshoppers. It is often heard calling–some birders imagine that it says Killy Killy.

(Recording of an American Kestrel)

“What about the yellow and black canary-like birds? Do they change colors in winter and do they migrate?”

That’s the American Goldfinch. Males are strikingly marked in spring and summer. Females and young are much duller. In winter, the males molt into a less colorful plumage, maybe making them less conspicuous to predators.

Like a lot of finches, goldfinches are erratic migrants. In some winters a lot of them remain in Minnesota. But in some winters, even when food seems abundant, they disappear.

(Recording of an American Goldfinch)

If you have a question about birds in our area, write to “For the Birds” at KUMD. This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”