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Consumer Q's: Mysterious birds, gelding stallions and incessantly chirping crickets
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Because of its singing, friendly personality and appetite for insect pests, the Carolina wren has become a garden and farm favorite. - photo by EDDIE LEDBETTER/staff

Q: There is a small brown bird that occasionally roosts on a ledge at the top of a column at the corner of my porch. It looks like a tiny ball with feathers. It is gone at dawn. I saw it one evening before it roosted. It has a stubby, upright tail and curved bill. It gave a loud, trilling call followed by raspy squawks before it finally flew up to its roosting spot. What could it be?
    A: It sounds like you are being visited by a Carolina wren. This cinnamon brown, squat, little bird could be described as the little bird with the big voice. If you are nearby when one starts to sing, you may think it is three times its size. Because of its singing, friendly personality and appetite for insect pests, it has become a garden and farm favorite. South Carolinans designated it their state bird in 1948.
    According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, insects and spiders make up the bulk of the Carolina wren diet. Common foods include caterpillars, moths, stick bugs, leafhoppers, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches. They occasionally eat small lizards, frogs and snakes. They also consume a small amount of berries and seeds including those of waxmyrtle, sweetgum and poison ivy.
    You can build or purchase specially designed nesting boxes to lure Carolina wrens. However, they are not necessarily particular. We have seen them nest in hanging baskets and potted plants on a balcony. For more information: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Carolina_Wren/id


    Q: When is the next "Stallion to Gelding Day?"
    A: Equine veterinarians across Georgia are joining the Georgia Equine Rescue League (GERL) to host the 5th Annual Georgia Stallion to Gelding Castration Day, a low-cost castration clinic, for $100 per horse on Saturday, Nov. 14. GERL will pay $50 and the owner/client will pay $50. Only Georgia residents can take advantage of this opportunity. Proof of tetanus inoculation is required and no cryptorchids are accepted. For more information, check the GERL website at www.gerlltd.org. The website has a list of participating vets.

    Q: I accidentally carried in a cricket when I brought my houseplants inside last fall. I like crickets, but not in my bedroom. It kept me awake. How can I prevent the same thing from happening this year? I don't want to spray the plants with an insecticide before bringing them in.
    A: Check all plants for insects before bringing them into the house. This includes pests such as mealybugs and scale. It is easier to treat and deal with them outside than inside the house. Consider low-toxicity sprays, such as insecticidal soaps, if treatment is needed.
    In regard to crickets specifically, check the loose soil at the top of the pots to make sure none are hiding there. Knock the plant out of the pot, if possible, to examine the root area. Some people put a layer of rocks or shards at the bottom of their pots. This area can provide pockets where insects hide. Thoroughly soak the root ball of the plant to flush out any hiding crickets. You may want to set your plants individually in a garage or on a porch for a night or two to quarantine them so that you can discover if any of them may be serving as a cricket refuge.
    You are not the only one to have experienced cricket-induced insomnia. In 1984, a cricket breached White House security and kept first lady Nancy Reagan awake. The plants it came in on were removed, but by then it had taken up residence in the radiator vents which had to be taken apart and sprayed. In the meantime, Mrs. Reagan's press secretary said the first lady kept reminding herself that it is supposed to be good luck to have a cricket in the house. 

    If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (arty.schronce@agr.georgia.gov) or visit the department's website at www.agr.georgia.gov.

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