Prickly lemon tree provides emergency shelter for Concord birds

DEAR JOAN: My mother has had a Meyer lemon tree in her backyard for 50 years. Great fruit, vicious thorns.

Usually, the only avian visitors are hummingbirds. Lately, on three occasions, about a dozen birds have swarmed the tree. There have been up to five different species, from hummers to dove-sized birds.

I was puzzled, until I saw a pair of hawks circling above. Is this “Lemon Fortress” behavior normal, or have these old birds learned a new trick?

The smaller hawk had a white breast and variegated brown feathers. The larger had all dark feathers. Are these a pair, or strangers hunting together?

Maria, Concord

DEAR MARIA: You know what they say, any port in a storm, even one with viscous thorns.

Whenever birds sense danger, from above or at ground level, their instincts tell them to take cover. Shrubs are the more common places birds go to escape a threat, but any plant that gives them leafy protection will work.

As for the hawks, even mated pairs don’t hunt together, which is to say cooperatively. You might see a couple of hawks hunting in the same area at the same time, but they’re still out for themselves. The exception is the Harris’ hawk, which is the only known raptor to hunt in packs.

The pair you saw might have been hunting separately, or you might have seen an adult and a juvenile, who is just learning the ins and outs of finding food.

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DEAR JOAN: My baby hummers fledged so I took down the nest. Inside the nest is a very soft material, like fur. It almost looks manmade. Do you know what plant source is used for this? It’s so very soft.

Yvonne Moss, Concord

DEAR YVONNE: Hummers make use of a number of “fluffy” plants to line their nests.

Catkin-bearing trees and shrubs with soft plant fibers, flowers that have fuzzy foliage or fluff-filled seed pods, and even weeds all supply the goods.

If you want to assist the hummers in their nest building goals, try growing clematis, honeysuckle, pasque flower, blanket flower, lamb’s ears, and milkweed. Hummers also collect fluffy fibers from dandelions and cattails.

DEAR JOAN: My friend lives in Morro Bay, and she and her neighbors are having terrible problems with pigeons in their yards.

I live in Alamo and have the crow problem. I did buy two plastic “dead” crows but have not hung them yet. I will take your word for it that my crows will have a nice big funeral after I put them up.

Any ideas on getting rid of pigeons would be helpful.

Peggy, Alamo

DEAR PEGGY: Probably the easiest way to discourage pigeons in your yard is to remove bird feeders and baths.

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Putting up pinwheels or hanging shiny ribbons in areas the birds congregate also will help to scare them away. Owl or hawk effigies and rubber snakes also can deter pigeons, but it’s best to move these around every day or so to keep the pigeons from figuring out they are harmless. Some models are equipped with motion-activated sounds and movements.

As for your crow problem, I don’t know if plastic fake crows are realistic enough to work. You might have to go with something feathered.

Contact Joan Morris at [email protected]

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