Answer Man

Wren lovers can keep obnoxious sparrows on the wing this spring

Q. A friend of mine in Decatur is trying to lure wrens to nest in her yard, but the sparrows keep chasing them off. Is there anything she can do?

— Wayne, of Collinsville

A. She can hit those dirty birds with several tactics that might keep them on the fly to friendlier surroundings, according to Mardi Mauch, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Swansea.

For starters, if she’s putting out your typical wooden birdhouses, she should make sure the entry hole is no more than an inch in diameter — an inch and an eighth absolute tops. Once you get up to an inch and a quarter or larger, you may as well send out an invitation for sparrows to move in.

If the round opening is larger than an inch, she might consider buying a nest-box portal.

Available at many stores that sell bird supplies, these are pieces of metal that are easily added to reduce the size of the hole in your box, usually allowing entrance only to the birds you want.

“Sometimes a house sparrow will peck at an opening to kind of enlarge it so they can get in,” Mauch told me. “This is metal, and it will reduce that portal back down to the size it needs to be.

“A sparrow needs an opening that’s about an inch and a half,” Mauch continued. “An inch will deter the sparrows, but it’s all a wren needs.”

Next, use birdhouses without perches. Sure, you’re probably thinking the perches would be a nice touch. Like a human, you’re probably thinking the wren wants to build its nest and then sit out on the perch in the evening to enjoy a cold, frosty one while it enjoys the scenery.

But a perch is like putting out a welcome mat for sparrows.

“Wrens don’t need a perch,” Mauch said. “They just want to hit that opening, look in and go in.”

Finally, you might try lowering your boxes to no more than 3 to 6 feet above the ground. While wrens don’t seem to mind the low altitudes, sparrows normally like a higher roost.

If you do find sparrows starting to frequent your boxes, open them up, remove the nesting material that the sparrows have started to accumulate and toss it in a trash can.

Not only may this discourage the sparrows from returning, but it also will give you an interesting lesson in nest-building.

“Sparrows are weavers,” Mauch said. “They’ll take long, dry grasses, feathers — all kinds of stuff — and they’ll weave a big ball of nesting material and they make a little tunnel it. And it will take up the whole box.”

On the other hand, a wren will fashion the more traditional cup-shaped nest.

“Wrens will use sticks. It’s the male wren that brings sticks to the box and starts building a nest,” Mauch explained. “And usually they’ll do it in a couple places in a yard. That’s why folks will have two or three houses because he goes around and makes his little nests and then she comes along and picks the one she wants.”

Hmmm, looks like they’re not such bird-brains after all.

Q. I’d like to know where a person can buy an AM-FM radio — just a plain old radio, not a “boombox.” Don’t tell me to get on the computer because I don’t have one. Is there anyone who repairs radios?

— O.S., of Hamel

A. I’m not tuned in to your exact tastes, but if you boogie down to say, a Target, Walmart or Best Buy, you might find something that will be music to your ears.

Just from the way you ask the question, I was particularly taken by the Crosley Solo AM/FM Tabletop Radio I spied at Target. It mixes modern AroundSound technology with an old-fashioned circular tuning dial.

At $60, it also has drawn a few rave reviews.

“This little radio packs a good sound in a small space,” one person wrote at the Target site. “It is exceptional, really. It is doing a fine job. The design is quite retro and very appealing. Tuning stations is made easier by the tuning light. I read many favorable reviews before I purchased.”

For $10 more, you can ask a clerk about the equally retro-looking Crosley Ranchero or browse through a number of other possibilities starting at about $20 — including one apparently with changeable exteriors as the mood strikes you.

Best Buy also has a few possibilities, including the equally retro-looking Sangean WR-11, as does Walmart.

For a much larger selection, however, you’ll really need to find someone with computer access and check at, say, amazon.com.

As for repairs, you might try a Best Buy or other electronics repair place.

For example, Gene Kim here in Belleville (7303 Old St. Louis Road, 213-6667) said he would be glad to work his magic on it, but I know that’s a bit far for a Hamelite.

In any case, as I’ve found with computer printers and other equipment, it might be cheaper to buy new.

Today’s trivia

When Commodore Matthew Perry made his historic trip to the Far East in 1853 to establish trade with Japan, who commanded his flagship, the Mississippi?

Answer to Tuesday’s trivia: A few weeks before Donovan released “Mellow Yellow” as a single, rock musician Country Joe McDonald started the rumor that smoking dried banana skins could get you high because they contained a chemical called bananadine. That story was debunked by, among others, researchers at New York University, but it did nothing to hurt sales of one of Donovan’s biggest hits. As it turns out, Donovan later explained that the title of his psychedelic pop tune referred to a yellow “electrical banana” (aka sexual vibrator), according to the Rolling Stone Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll and an interview in New Musical Express magazine. But as lovers of classic literature know, the term “mellow yellow” predates the rock ’n’ roll era by decades. On page 656 of his 1922 novel “Ulysses,” James Joyce wrote, “He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of (Mrs. Marion Bloom’s) rump ... ” There’s no indication whether Donovan’s use of the phrase was a purposeful update of the Irish writer’s suggestive passage.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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