Q. We found a bird’s nest on top of an outside light fixture with four white eggs and two spotted larger eggs. Do you think the larger eggs were left by another bird? What kind?
Laura Gundersen, Malverne
A. This is an interesting situation that occurs in the natural world. The larger spotted eggs are those of a cowbird. This bird is known as a nest parasite; the female cowbird does not build a nest herself but will lay an egg in the nest of another bird. The cowbird eggs hatch faster than those of most other North American songbirds. Since the eggs are larger, the chicks are larger and the cowbird chicks will dominate the nest. Gradually, the foster mother’s own babies will starve and fade away while their biological parents work tirelessly to feed the cowbird’s babies, which can be almost as big as they are. Scientists debate endlessly about why some birds have adapted to this breeding situation. There are different species of birds all over the world that are nest parasites. The absolute why of the situation remains a mystery.
Q. We have two westies. We also have now an 18-month-old boy who likes to play in the yard every day. I regret not having trained the dogs to go to relieve themselves in a specific area of the yard when we got them four years ago. Now the yard has to be carefully searched and cleaned every day. Not having the time to always physically lead them to a spot, I was wondering if there are other ways to accomplish this.
Rich William, Brentwood
A. Dogs are creatures of habit and like to eliminate in one area and one type of ground surface all the time. If a dog is lead to that particular area by hand and is forced to stay in that spot every single time that it has to eliminate, then that area of the yard gets hardwired into the dog’s mind as the place to go and the dog chooses to continue going there.
The operative phrase here is “lead to that area by hand” and you indicate that there is not enough time in your day to do this. I was in a similar situation years back with multiple dogs to train and I solved it by fencing in a small area by the back door and against the house so that it was under the eaves and protected from the rain. I covered the ground with driveway gravel. When it was time to let the dogs out to eliminate, we would lead them to the fenced area — it was about 8-feet square. We would put them in there, close the gate and go back in the house to do whatever we had to do.
After 20 minutes the dogs finished what they had to do. We then let them out into the yard to run and play. After a few weeks of this the dogs got so used to this routine that I was able to take the gate off and the dogs would go in and out of their “bathroom” of their own choice. Many fence companies can put together such a dog run at an affordable price, and the gravel is sold at any garden center. It will take a weekend to put it all together, but it will save a lot of your time in the end.
Q. We found a nest of baby rabbits in our yard at the edge of the lawn next to a thick juniper bush. The gardeners blew off the layer of fur and grass the mother had covered the babies with and we put the fur back over them, but we have been watching the nest though the window for several hours now and we do not see the mother coming back. Should we take them indoors to bottle feed them?
Seth Levy, Hewlett
A. Bottle feeding baby rabbits is a huge undertaking that very rarely ends in success unless you have lots of time and experience. Rabbit milk is very rich, and the mother rabbits — called does — do not stay with their babies as dogs and cats do as they do not want to draw attention to them. Instead, they build that nest you saw and line it with their fur and that is enough to keep the babies warm. Since their milk is so rich they do not have to nurse the babies continuously and just visit them a couple of times at night under the cover of darkness. Then they cover the babies with more fur and grass and stay far away from them until the next feeding time. So the best thing to do here is to just leave them all alone.