There used to be a website called Ask the Experts on which you could submit a question, for free, on a large variety of subjects and get an answer from experts, or at least knowledgeable people, in the field. I answered about 2400 inquiries to date before the site disappeared. The vast majority of questions were straightforward and fall into a few categories:
- Identification – a bird in the backyard, one they saw while on vacation, on TV, in the zoo, etc. Sometimes they simply describe the bird but often they include a photo. If the description or photos are good, it’s pretty easy although birds from other continents are a bit more of a challenge. I can only recall being stumped twice. Occasionally a description is just plain wrong or misleading and I have to work with the questioner to refine it.
- Behavior – why are blackbirds chasing a hawk, why do starlings flock in the winter, why do woodpeckers peck on my house?
- Injuries and illnesses– bird with broken wing, Northern Cardinal with bald head (feather mites), House Finches with eye problems (conjunctivitis), etc. I always recommend going to a wildlife rehab center or a vet.
- Baby birds – usually this is a fledgling that jumped out of the nest; I usually recommend they leave it alone but if necessary, take it to a bird rehab center.
- Pest birds – how to prevent grackles from pooping on the pool deck, swallows from building nests on the house, and mockingbirds from singing all night.
- Why are there fewer birds in my backyard/neighborhood/local park this year? And,
- General questions – how birds fly, breathe, hatch, incubate, the longest wingspan, etc.
I have also received a number of questions on caged birds – parakeets, parrots, doves, and so on. Although not my real expertise, I know enough about keeping birds (I did it myself briefly many years ago, although today I am not fond of keeping birds in captivity) to answer questions, like “why are my lovebirds molting?” how big should a nest box be for doves?” and “how to sex parakeets.” I try to give the inquirer some other site to go to to get an answer.
It seems that many people who ask questions about their caged birds know less about birds in general than those who ask about wild birds. I guess that bird keepers simply go to a pet shop and bring home a bird and a cage and assume it will need minimal care and just act like a hamster. A recent questioner asked why her birds were fighting. (In a small cage you just can’t randomly mix a bunch of birds of different species as she did.) It’s truly amazing to find that some people who buy a bird at a pet shop have no idea what species it is. A person wanted to know how to sex and breed his lovebirds. When I asked what species, he sent me a photo of his parakeets! And then there is the guy who wanted to use his flock of chickens to hatch parrot eggs. (I didn’t ask for details.)
Watching birds in the wild is much more ornithologically educational, it appears.