Mail call: Shalaway hears feedback on ticks


Last week’s column about ticks drew a quick response from many readers, including a great tip about a simple, inexpensive tool to remove engorged ticks.

Rod Groomes, M.D., director of the emergency department at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in Kittanning, Pa. for 27 year, wrote, “I’m an ER doc in rural Pennsylvania, and I have removed hundreds of attached ticks. In the old days we injected the area with local anesthetic and dug out the mouth parts with a needle.”

Nifty tool

“A few years ago,” Groomes continued, “I discovered a nifty little tool called a “Tick Twister.” It’s shaped like a crowbar. You ease the Tick Twister under the tick and twirl it around three or four times, and the tick lets go.
‘We treat hundreds of attached ticks every year, and I’ve never seen the Twister fail.”

In a follow-up phone interview, Dr. Groomes explained, “Tiny ticks can usually be removed with a tweezers, but for larger engorged ticks, the Tick Twister is much more effective. And right now we’re seeing about 10 cases of Lyme disease each week, so anyone who spends time outdoors in this region should have a Tick Twister.”

(Tick Twisters are available online at and at drug stores.)


Reader Ruth Bechtie-Pierce also recommended the Tick Twister. “I wanted to let you know about the Tick Twister for removing ticks. We found it at PetSmart last year and have been using it on the dogs. I was a little nervous about using it to remove a tick on my husband’s back, but it came out easily and completely.”

* * *


From Mayville, N.Y., Martha Carnahan writes, “You will be interested to know we have a downy woodpecker that sips nectar from our hummingbird feeder.”

It’s always interesting to watch birds other than hummingbirds sip nectar from a feeder, but it’s relatively common.
More than 50 species of birds besides hummingbirds are known to sip nectar. Orioles, chickadees, house finches, and woodpeckers are among the backyard birds that enjoy an occasional sweet drink.

* * *

Red tailed hawks

Beryl Johnson from Moon Township, Pa., wrote, “A pair of red tailed hawks built a nest in a pine tree in our yard this spring. One day about two weeks ago we saw two blue jays harass the hawks at the nest.

“Since that episode, we have seen very little of the hawks. Could they have been frightened away by the blue jays?”
The blue jays almost certainly did not cause the hawks to abandon the nest. A more likely explanation is that a great horned owl or crow visited the nest while it was unattended and helped itself to the nest’s contents.

* * *

Missing hummingbirds

Finally, from Guernsey County, Ohio, Barbara Chorey is the most recent of many readers asking, “Where are all of the hummingbirds? We just aren’t seeing many this year.”

I’ve been wondering the same thing.

According to the map of returning ruby-throated hummingbirds (, hummers returned early over most of the east this year.

I saw my first one the second week in May. But since then I’ve seen just a few. And when I did see a hummingbird at my feeders, it was just one.

Most years in early June I see four five hummers whenever I check my feeders.
So, I too, wonder where the hummers are.


Two explanations come to mind. The first is yo-yo weather. We had eight inches of snow on March 25, 82 degrees on April 9 and 16, 32 degrees on April 13th, and 28 degrees on April 14. Then on May 24 the high temperature was only 49 degrees.

Though ruby-throats are hardy little birds, these thermal ups and downs could have had them scrambling to find early nectar sources and soft-bodied invertebrates. If spring weather has influenced hummer abundance, I expect their numbers will stabilize soon.

Another possibility is that last year’s “derecho” on June 30 destroyed many active hummingbird nests. The big wind blew down many trees, and even if nest trees did not fall, the fierce winds could have easily blow eggs/chicks from the nests.
As a result, fewer hummers may have fledged last year, and that may be why numbers are down this year.


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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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