DEAR JOAN: Early last fall we put out a sock feeder in our backyard to attract finches. Very soon we had four lesser goldfinches on the feeder. They are a delight.
We assume they came from nearby, but every few weeks more came. Now we have 16 or 17 crowded on the sock -- we're not quite sure of the count.
Where do they come from, these new birds? Do the finches have a newsletter or weekly meetings where they share information? And why do we not get house finches or purple finches, only lessers?
John Plotz and Rebecca Abrams
DEAR JOHN AND REBECCA: Birds have very interesting ways of communicating, especially when they find a reliable source of good food. They used to use telegraph and then phone lines to convey information, but now they use Twitter.
OK, that's my bad joke for the day. Birds do, however, manage to communicate quite well for creatures that appear to have limited vocabulary. The finches are songbirds, and they may use different songs to tell their brethren where to find food.
Finches like to flock together, so they may be coming to your feeder because that's just what large groups do. In winter, especially, flocks are better at finding food sources and sharing the information. One of the reasons they flock is to improve their chances of finding food -- there are a lot more eyes out there searching.
Your original four finches probably relayed the information to others and a flock formed.
Although it may appear the same birds stay at your feeder all day, they actually visit several locations each day in search of food, some of it from natural sources.
I don't know why your feeder seems to attract only the lesser finches. They eat pretty much the same thing as the American goldfinches, the house finches and the purple finches, and that would be seeds, buds and fruit.
The lesser finches, which are smaller than the other types of goldfinches, have a preference for seeds in the sunflower family, but it's not likely that you are providing feed that only they would like.
I don't think the lesser finches are keeping the house finches from dropping by. They are not territorial in that way and you usually find both types of finches at feeders.
Try hanging out another sock or a new seed feeder with a different food and see what you can attract.
DEAR JOAN: I've been meaning to comment on a recent column about the origin of black squirrels in this area, to tell you what I'd heard long ago.
I don't know how accurate my information is and I can't remember where I got it, but my family has been in the Palo Alto-Menlo Park area since about 1875 and perhaps it came down from them.
The speculation was that Leland Stanford imported them to his farm to enhance his hunting sport. The black squirrels supposedly make better targets than the grays.
It sounds believable, but there's no way of proving it, I guess.
DEAR CORINNE: Well, that sounds better than the other Stanford story, which is that they were a research project gone wrong. But there's no denying the area has a lot of black squirrels.