Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Brood mixing is common among waterfowl

Q: We've seen a family with nine goslings [on Center Pond] — do they gather little ones from other families?

— Chris and Bob, Dalton

A: Death of one or both parents, or other causes, including accidental separation leaving the young to fend for themselves, is sufficient for another family assuming care of the "orphans." I have not heard of one family abducting members of another, but it may happen. The discussion is not that they do or don't adopt is probably less important than why. Is it a benefit for one family to adopt orphans? The advantage is marginal or neutral compared to the benefits to the orphans themselves. In short, brood mixing is widespread among waterfowl. Benefits need more study to come up with definitive answers.

Q: I had to write a follow-up of my recent letter about finding what was most definitely a robin's egg in my petunia patch. Well, this morning, I had to take another look and it was gone. (No, I am not hallucinating, nor do I take illicit drugs.) My friend offered a very logical explanation as to its disappearance. There are enough chipmunks, crows and other critters in the area in the area who might be the obvious culprits. But the mystery of how it got there in the first place remains. Hope you can offer even the wildest of guesses.

— Michael, Great Barrington

A: I recently watched a chipmunk run by with a fledgling. And besides chipmunks, squirrels and larger mammals, there are the birds that search for eggs and fledglings. Grackles and crows, as well as blue jays and more, keep an eye out for easy meals. I agree, the mystery is how the egg "got there in the first place." Here is a wild guess, a crow had stolen the egg and a kingbird attacked the crow, making it drop the egg. What happened next has already been discussed.

Q: I have invasive bamboo in my yard that I would like to see gone. One large area of it I have had covered with tarps for two years. Other areas I keep mowing down or stomping down. Should I uncover the area and plant grass in spring or fall? Could you give me suggestions?

— Timothy

A: Most grasses in this region grow and take best in cool temperatures, making autumn the ideal time to reseed and overseed. Apply seed at least a month before your first average frost date so it can get established.

The thought is to prepare your soil, by loosening it, removing root and debris, and aerate it well. Leave it uncovered and moistened for a few days before sowing your new grass.

The "invasive bamboo" referred to here is more properly called Japanese Knotweed with the scientific name Fallopia japonica. This fast-growing alien was brought from eastern Asia as a perennial garden plant, growing up to 10 feet tall, with heart-shaped leaves and white flowers. The problem is it is nearly impossible to control, if at all, and is not fussy as to where it grows. I know of one person that encourages it to isolate his home from the neighbors'. And many more, while they don't encourage its growth, cut the early spring shoots as an asparagus or rhubarb tonic, rich in vitamin C. I think it has a lemony flavor.

It invades a wide variety of places and rapidly forms dense stands that crowd out almost all other plants. I have yet to encounter competition between another invasive and knotweed. Should be interesting.

Regardless how it is controlled, and there are some chemicals that some environmental entities will suggest, I believe in root pulling and have been told numerous times, plan on three years' work.

It is the extensive root systems that make it so successful an "enemy." Removal by pulling or repeated cutting is most effective for young plants. Treatment with systemic herbicide can be effective, but you might need to treat repeatedly — and chemical treatment must be kept from water.

Repeated and frequent mowing with a mower blade set at its lowest will eventually starve the plant after several seasons. It is like mowing wild roses, to be effective none of the plant can be allowed to grow, or the runners will continue to run.


While shoveling a groundhog off the road in front of our neighbors' house, I realized that she was nursing and most probably had babies.

Perhaps you could remind people to watch for animals crossing the road, emphasizing that when they are hit at this time of year that they probably have babies depending on them. It breaks my heart.

This is not a particularly busy street.

I still want to get Tufts to open a satellite wildlife clinic, at least seasonally, here in the Berkshires.


— Ellen Hand, Pittsfield

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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