Q: We have a backyard feeder and bird bath. Both are kept clean and filled. Every morning we have a large number and variety of birds. During the day, several visitors arrive and, around 5 p.m., another large group. We have not changed anything or acquired any pets. For the last two weeks, no seeds have been eaten, and we have no birds, squirrels or bunnies. What's going on? -- Bette J. Adams, St. James

A: Late summer/early fall is a busy time for all wild animals. As the daylight gets shorter, the photo period triggers the animals' brains to stop the normal routines they have been following and adopt new ones. So if they have been defending a territory, they no longer do so and thus the populations tend to blend and mix, ebbing and flowing like the tide. Plus, their bodies are going through changes: fur and feathers are molting or shedding getting ready for winter, and birds that migrate south are forming flocks and are now working together instead of being competitive.

So now getting ready for winter has overtaken more mundane tasks, such as eating. This time of the year, the weather is still warm and the animals do not need as many calories as they did when they were nesting and raising babies, and that is why they are not at your feeders with the intensity that they were before. As soon as they get all these changes sorted out and settle in for the winter, they will be back at your feeders. So do not take them down and keep your eye out for your feathered friends.

Q: We have two male cats that are brothers whom we adopted as very young kittens when we found them abandoned in our backyard. We raised them and got them neutered and they are house cats and lead a luxurious life. They get along very well. One cat is clearly the boss and is dominant to the other, but there is never any conflict between the two. However we notice that the dominant cat rubs against our legs all the time. Sometimes when he rubs against my wife he almost knocks her down, especially when she comes home from work. The submissive cat never does this and we wonder if you can explain this behavior. -- Glen Miller, Riverhead

A: Rubbing itself against your leg is not really a sign that a cat is feeling affection toward you. Rather, it is an issue of reassurance that all is well in its home territory. Cats have scent glands on their chin, forehead, cheeks, rump, toes and tail, and these glands all can put forth a small amount of scent that we cannot detect but other cats can. You and your wife are the most important assets in the lives of your cats and the dominant one just wants to be sure that the two of you are well marked and labeled as such in case any other cats think they can muscle in on his territory. When your wife comes home from work, most of the scent that he laid on her is gone and that is why he is so eager to mark her again to reassure himself that his job of keeping his territory safe for him and his brother is done.

Q: How often does a bird's cage need to be cleaned? We have an African grey parrot in a huge cage and my wife takes it apart and cleans the whole thing every day. The job seems to create a lot of drama. This bird is the cleanest pet I ever had -- his poop does not smell at all and he eats these dry pellets that make very little mess. I was wondering how important it is that she go through this procedure. -- Jim Leonard, New Hyde Park

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A: I have to agree with your wife on this one. A bird's cage needs to be cleaned as often as possible. Even though a bird's poop may not smell and is much less offensive than that of a dog or cat, the dried poop creates a lot of dust that is offensive to some humans and birds as well.

Another issue is that a bird must never come into contact with any molted feathers that are laying at the bottom of its cage. This is very, very important. In the natural world when a feather falls off a bird it gets blown away and the bird never has any chance to interact with it. A pet bird sitting in a cage that is able to go down to the bottom of it and pick up a stray feather and play with it soon becomes enamored with it. So if a bird get used to thinking of a feather as a plaything then there is nothing to stop it from pulling out its own feathers and playing with them when it runs out of stray feathers gleaned from the bottom of its cage. This can lead to many of the feather-plucking behaviors that some pet birds suffer from, and the best way to keep this habit from starting is to keep the cage as clean as possible.