(This column was first published in the December 30, 2002 issue of The Buffalo News.)
Once again at year-end I write to thank my many correspondents who continue to make this journalistic avocation a most rewarding one for me. I also respond here to a few of your interesting inquiries.
The most common question this year has been: Where have all the crows gone? Often such inquiries are accompanied by appreciative comments about these remarkably sly and pesky birds.
I must admit that I am not a crow lover. Formerly a bird of the countryside, this species has within the past thirty years moved into our cities, attracted by the smorgasbord offered them by plastic garbage bags. As one sad result, they have wiped out our nighthawks by stealing the eggs and young from their rooftop nests. No longer do we see those birds of the evening flying around the light standards of our ballparks.
Be that as it may, crows do seem to be in decline. The October Buffalo Ornithological Society count found their numbers down and the recent Toronto Christmas Bird Count reported a major reduction. And I must admit that even I am beginning to miss their antics on garbage collection day.
It is difficult to pin down such short-term declines but other evidence suggests that this is an effect of West Nile virus. For example, Bob DiCandido of New York City tells of dead and dying crows falling from a roost as he walked through an urban park.
Meanwhile Canadians are reporting a sharp reduction in chickadees coming to feeders. I will be interested in hearing more from you readers about your experiences.
My column on feeding birds suet brought several inquiries like this one: "I put it out. Where are the birds?" I counseled patience. Birds take some time to get used even to the finest treats. Once the local berry crop is depleted, this should change.
In July 1999, I wrote a column about the local release at a wedding of exotic butterflies (q.v.) and recently I received a number of messages about that column. No, those correspondents had not just caught up with their reading of The Buffalo News; rather, they found that column on the web at www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~insrisg/nature/ where my past essays are archived.
The messages were from members of the International Butterfly Breeders Association (IBBA), each of whom agreed that it was wrong to release those soldier butterflies far from their normal range. They all pointed out, however, that this unethical episode was almost certainly committed by a non-member and went against their organization's Code of Ethics.
Intrigued by this flurry of late responses, I visited the the IBBA website and found much interesting information about this group. In particular, breeders are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and IBBA members agree: to ship only butterflies they hand-rear; to ship only healthy butterflies in containers that best protect them; and to abide by international, federal and state regulations. New York State is restricted (by the USDA) to shipping for release only mourning cloaks, black swallowtails, red admirals, painted and American ladies and monarchs, this last species further restricted to this side of the Continental Divide.
In addition the IBBA website offers much scientific information that should reassure those who are considering ordering butterflies for display or release at weddings or memorial services. And, yes, their listing includes a nearby association member: the Reed Butterfly Farm in Jamestown operated as a hobby by Joseph and Lili Pintea-Reed. They will distribute butterflies again in May.
May seems impossibly distant now but we know it's there under the snow waiting in hibernation.-- Gerry Rising
Thanks again for writing. Please continue to do so.