Feeding robins: Why it's so tough

Robins tend to show up in area backyards Robins tend to show up in area backyards from mid-March to mid-July. (April 19, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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Q: I just saw the first robin of spring on my lawn. I have a big wild bird feeder in my backyard and cannot imagine there is any wild food around this time of the year for robins to eat. Is there anything I could add to my bird seed mix that robins may find attractive? --Grace Williams, Uniondale

A: In this area, you can see robins just about any month of the year if you know where to look. You will only see them walking about in your backyards, however, from mid-March to mid-July. This has nothing to do with food, but rather hormones. Robins are very shy and secretive birds. It is very hard to get close enough to see them in the fall and winter. They usually stay in empty lots and wooded areas where they can eke out an existence on berries from ivy and bittersweet and other natural foods. They cannot eat seeds at all. Unlike other birds, though, robins find suburban areas with grassy lawns just perfect to nest in. They prefer such areas to a wooded situation, much like Canada Geese do.

The increased daylight period has caused a surge in the breeding hormones of the robins, and they have to find a suburban backyard to claim as a territory to breed in. The hormones rushing through them cause them to be brave and fearless around human presence, although they are always wary.

Since robins are a ground-feeding bird that eat earthworms and berries, it is very hard to put out any foods for them. In the past, I have found they will sometimes eat raisins and dried currants and small dog kibble that I put out on a baking sheet. The omnipresent starlings, however, usually get to the food first.

If any other bird-feeding enthusiasts have suggestions on feeding robins in their backyard, I would appreciate any ideas.

Q: Our 8-month-old fox terrier goes crazy when any guests come into our home. She jumps all over them and tries to lick them. We cannot calm her down. We have to pry her off the guests and then put her in her training crate. She does not listen to us at all and ignores the squirt bottle that we use to try to distract her. --Grace Justin, Manorville

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A: Your pup is feeding off the drama, so it is best to prevent it before the drama occurs. When the guests ring the bell, attract her attention with a big piece of cheese and then throw it in her crate. When she runs into the crate after the cheese, you calmly close the door. Then go and let the guests in. Ignore all her antics in the crate while you are greeting your company. After a while, when she calms down, you can let her out of her crate and she will greet everyone in a less dramatic manner. As she matures, she will feel the need to act up like this less and less as long as things are maintained in a calm manner when guests arrive.

Q: My son's ball python has an infestation of mites, and we do not know what to do. We have cleaned his tank and keep him on a sheet of newspaper. We rub him all over with mineral oil, because that is supposed to smother the mites, but they crawl right over the oil. People on the Internet have suggested putting a No Pest Strip in the tank with the snake, but that seems a bit extreme. Can you offer any suggestions? --Howard Russo, Commack

A: Years ago, I tried all the home remedies with very limited success. Then a new drug came out called Ivermectin. When applied to any reptile properly by a vet, it gets rid of the mites like magic as long as the snake or lizard is kept in a very clean environment afterward.

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Q: When should I start to feed the goldfish in my garden pond? I have seen them come up to the surface on the few sunny days we have had so far, and they seem to be looking for food, even though the water is still cold. --Harry Timberlake, Seaford

A: You do not want to feed them too much at first, even though they may be looking for food. Their stomachs are shrunken from the hibernation and cannot handle any rich foods yet. Pet stores sell special food blends for pond fish that are meant to be fed just in the spring and fall so your fish get just what they need. These foods will not stress out the fish if they eat it now. As soon as the weather gets really warm and the fish are active again, you can feed the summer diets to them as much as they want.

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