Marc Morrone was born in 1960 in the Bronx and, when he was 2, his family moved to
Q. I have been feeding wild birds in my backyard for 50 years now. I always enjoyed the goldfinches and house finches that flocked to my thistle feeders in years past. However, for the past two years, only the goldfinches have been coming to my yard. We do not see the house finches anymore, and they no longer build their nests in the tall shrubs around my house. I miss the cheerful singing of the males in the spring, and I wonder what happened to them and what I can do to attract them back? --Bonnie Smith, Huntington
A. I miss the house finches also. They are very happy little birds closely related to canaries, and the males with their orange heads had such nice songs that I would always stop and listen when I heard them singing. They actually never belonged here at all. Those birds are native to the Southwest. They were introduced to the New York area decades ago, and they were very successful and spread all over the Northeast. A few years back, people noticed that they were suffering from an eye infection that was brought about from a pox virus that is usually seen in caged canaries and finches. Some say that since there are quite a few canary breeders in the New York area and many of them would feed their leftover seeds to the wild birds, that the house finches somehow caught the virus in this manner, but that is all just conjecture. At any rate, the virus decimated the population.
If any bird watchers do still have house finches that frequent their backyard feeders in the New York area, I certainly would like to hear about them.
Q. My golden puppy is now 10 months old, and he just chews and chews and chews everything in our house. I talked to a trainer, and he said the dog has to stay in a crate until he is older and grows out of it, but the dog is now totally house trained and I hate to put him in the crate when we are not home. He is such a smart dog, and we just cannot understand why we can teach him to sit in just five minutes but we cannot teach him to chew only on his multitude of toys and to leave the rest of the house alone. --James Watson, Sayville
A. The issue here is that you are not looking at things from the dog's point of view. He sees a world full of "things" to learn about and the only way to learn about these "things" is to use his mouth. Notice I say "things" and not toys or shoes or legs of a chair, as "things" are all that these household objects are to him.
Now, of course, he is a smart dog, and if you took off a month from work and spent all day with him and corrected him every time he put something in his mouth that you do not want him to chew on and rewarded him when he took up something that you do want him to chew on, he would certainly learn what you are trying to teach him. However, when he is unsupervised all day long, your whole house is a laboratory of learning. So the trainer is correct. If you had the dog in an area with only the things available to him that you want him to chew on, as time went by, he would only chew on those items. If you could gate off a room to keep him in where there were only his toys to chew on, that would work, but to make such a room chew-proof from a 10-month-old golden's point of view is hard to do. So I suggest a large crate filled with his toys during the day. It will only be two or three months before he finally gets the idea, and then you can dispense with the crate altogether.
Q. A few weeks back, you talked about planting rye grass seed in pots and placing them throughout the house for cats to eat, luring them away from chewing up houseplants. I cannot find rye grass seeds. Is there something else that I can plant? I did buy a flat of rye grass from a juice bar, but it was expensive. My cats did like it. I hope you can help me as I have five cats and lots of plants. --Nona Goldsmith, Flushing
A. Every pet store sells parakeet seed mix, and the combination of seeds in those mixes will germinate as fast as rye, and the cats will like it just as much. Just be sure to get a seed mix that is just plain seeds as some bird seed mixes have little colored processed pellets or crumbles in them, and they will only rot and spoil when you plant the seeds in the pots for your cats to enjoy. These seeds will germinate in about three days and in a week will be tall enough for your cats to enjoy, so if you plant the pots in rotation, you'll always have one ready to lure your cats away from your plants.