SCARLET SAGE IS PRETTY SPECIAL

        If you are a wildlife gardener, you realize there is no such thing as a perfect plant.  That being said, I have found plants that exceed my expectations.  One such plant is scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

       My wife and I have grown scarlet sage in our home gardens and containers sitting on our deck for a number of years.  As expected, it has done well in our gardens.  However, its performance in containers has been truly remarkable.

       During the spring of 2018, my wife scattered scarlet sage seeds in several large containers.  In some instances, she planted it alone; in others, she mixed the seeds with black-eyed-Susans and zinnias. 

       As hoped, the plants did well and soon the bright red color of the plants’ blossoms could be seen from afar.  In addition, we were pleased to find that with regular watering, the plants flourished throughout a dry, hot summer.  Eventually after they finished blooming, they produced an abundance of seedpods, which soon dropped countless seeds onto the deck and into the containers where they were raised as well in nearby pots.  Many of these seeds, in turn, sprouted and produced a crop of new plants that displayed blossoms from late summer into fall.  In fact, the second blooming did not end until frost claimed them.

       This spring as my wife was preparing to replant our container gardens she noticed that, in each pot that contained scarlet sage in 2018 sage plants were sprouting.  In addition, young sage plants were appearing in pots adjacent to those dedicated solely to scarlet sage.  It was obvious, that enough young seedlings were taking root to eliminate the need to replant them.

       These third generation plants eventually bloomed profusely throughout what turned out to be one of the hottest on record.  The plants’ blossoms were pleasing to the eye and were a source of nectar for wild pollinators such as butterflies (particularly cloudless sulphurs), bumblebees, and carpenter bees as well as a host of other wild pollinators.  As was the case in 2018, the seeds daily attracted hungry beautiful American goldfinches.

       As was the case last year, the majority of the seeds fell into the containers in which they were grown.  Some weeks ago, they sprouted and are now producing blossoms.  This bloom could not come at a better time as from now into fall nectar is more difficult for butterflies and others to find.  Both migratory cloudless sulphurs and ruby-throated hummingbirds heavily feed on scarlet sage nectar at this time of year.  In addition, I am sure that the monarchs that will be passing through my yard in a few weeks will seek out scarlet sage nectar as they did last year.

       Oh, I should also mention more scarlet sage seedlings have emerged in each of our containers–this plant does not stop giving.

       I will never know how many nectar feeders these plants have already fed this year, or the number of American goldfinches that dined on the scarlet sage’s tiny dark seeds.  However, I am certain wildlife watching in our backyard would have paled without their presence.

       Is the scarlet sage a perfect wildlife plant?  No, but this hardy native has become a valued member of our backyard wild community.

BACKYARD SECRET: CLUES TO BIRD MIGRATION ARE BEING UNLOCKED

        We have certainly come a long way in our understanding of bird migration.  For example, it is hard to believe that during the early days of the founding of the United States it was popularly believed with the onset of winter, hummingbirds “migrated” only as far as a nearby tree and impaled its bill in the plant’s trunk.  Here it remained immobile until the land thawed the following spring.

       Nowadays, through the hard work of many ornithologists, we have a far better understanding of how birds fly from their breeding grounds to their winter homes and back with unbelievable accuracy.  This research has reveal birds employ a number of environmental clues such as polarized light, the stars, the sun and even magnetic fields to steer the their course on their epic migratory journeys.

       Have we answered all of the mysteries of bird migration?  Many of us believe we have much more to learn.  I, for one, cannot wait to see what future research will reveal.

BIOLOGISTS USE NEW DEVICE TO TRACK HUMMINGBIRDS IN BACKYARDS

      Modern technology is having an awesome impact on wildlife research.  Drones are now permitting biologists to assess such things as wildlife habitats and animal behavior in a fraction of the time and effort it would take using techniques that are more conventional.  Even PIT (Passive Intergrated Transponder) technology is enabling biologists to track the movements of animals as small as a hummingbird.

       If a dog or cat has found a Forever Home in your residence, you are familiar with PIT tags.  Most dogs and cats carry a PIT tag.  However, PIT technology has advances enough to the point where miniaturized tracking devices are tiny enough to be used to track the movements of a hummingbird.  As with our pets, these extremely small devices are delicately inserted beneath the animal’s skin

       With this technology, biologists can easily track the movements of individual hummingbirds going about their daily lives.  A group of researchers from the University Of California Davis School Of Veterinary Medicine recently reported the results of their study designed to track hummingbirds visiting feeders in a suburban backyard.  Each time a hummingbird visited a feeder their visit was logged by a scanning device similar to those used when we purchase everything from books and clothing to groceries.

       The study involved placing PIT tags in Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbird and then recording how often and long each tagged bird visited the seven feeders scattered about the yard.  From September 2016 through March 2018, the birds visited the feeders roughly 65,500 times.

       Among the fascinating facts the biologists have gleaned from their study are:

● Female hummingbirds have a tendency to linger longer at feeders than males.

● During the spring and summer hummingbirds visit feeders more often in the morning and evening than at any other part of the day.

● Male hummingbirds more often feed with other males than with females.

       Do any of these findings hold true with what you have observed watching ruby-throated hummingbirds in your backyard?

                             

BACKYARD SECRET – CAROLINA WRENS ARE CHAMPION SONGSTERS

        If you live in Georgia, it is next to impossible not to hear the cheery vocalizations of the Carolina wren.  I hear them throughout the year.  In fact, the song of a Carolina wren is often the first sound I hear when I step outside in the morning.  This has made me wonder how often a wren calls in day.

       Recently while conducting research on backyard wildlife I found an answer to this perplexing question.  It seems that it has been documented that a captive male Carolina wren actually sang 3,000 times in a single day!

       I must admit, I had no idea a Carolina wren could accomplish such an impressive fete.

DANGEROUS MICROBES LIVING IN HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS

       We are all concerned about the health of the hummingbirds that we host at our hummingbird feeders.  Consequently we try to keep our feeders as clean as possible in hopes that microbes living on our feeders and the nectar we offer are not going to cause a health problem for our hummingbird neighbors.  For the first time, researchers have focused on what microscopic critters dwell in backyard feeders.

       Scientists at the University of California, Davis, conducted the research.  The research team carried out their study in a backyard located in Winter, California.  Both Anna’s and black-chinned hummingbirds frequented the feeders in this yard.

       During the study, the microbe communities living in the sugar water offered in feeders, on nearby flowers producing nectar, as well as on the hummingbirds themselves were compared.

       The results of the research project indicated that the majority of the bacteria growing in the hummingbird food offered in feeders did not pose a significant health threat to hummingbirds or humans.  However, also present were much smaller populations of bacteria and fungi that could potentially have a harmful effect on humans and hummers.

       It should be noted the scientists found deionized water harbored the most fungi.  In comparison, bacteria were most abundant in tap and bottled water.

       The research team recommended that cleaning hummingbird feeders away from locations where food is prepared.  This would minimize the risk of a potentially harmful pathogen would be spread to humans.

       I think it is abundantly clear we should make every effort to keep our hummingbird feeders as clean as possible.

BACKYARD SECRET: BLUEBIRDS EAT MONARCH CATERPILLARS

       Most of us have been taught that birds do not eat monarchs.  In fact, if a bird just happens to try to make a meal out of a monarch, it gets sick from ingesting the poisonous compounds that course through the monarch’s body.  After living through such an experience most birds do not try to dine on a monarch again. 

       Eastern bluebirds are an exception to the rule.  These gorgeous backyard favorites eat monarch caterpillars laden with poisonous chemicals obtained when they chomp on milkweed plants without showing any ill effects.  

       The bluebird can devour this toxic food because it uses a technique to prepare a caterpillar before it tries to consume it.  Once a bluebird grabs a monarch caterpillar it flies to a branch and squeezes the large, juicy caterpillar time and time again.  This process forces much of the juicy innards of the caterpillar out both ends of its body.  Once the caterpillar has been flattened, the hungry bluebird then proceeds to eat the hapless insect.

 

 

THE WIND CAN HELP MONARCHS MIGRATE

       Now that September has arrived it is hard not to turn our thoughts toward fall and migration.  Invariably we associate migration with birds.  However, the plight of the monarch has heightened our interest in the migration of insects such as the monarch butterfly. 

       Each fall these amazing insects make their way south to their winter home in Mexico.  While this is truly an amazing fete, we know very little about how these butterflies accomplish this seemingly impossible task.  Recently the results of research conducted by Samantha Knight of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and others filled in another piece of the jigsaw puzzle of monarch migration.

       The research team captured and placed tiny transmitters weighing only 300 milligrams on 43 monarch captured near the Canadian shore of Lake Huron.  The devices were mounted on the insects in an attempt to track their southbound migration.         Fortunately, the biologists were able to retrieve data from six of these butterflies.  One of the most interesting findings was one of the monarchs flew 89 miles in a single day.  They were also able to determine the monarchs winged their way south at a speed on 7.5 miles per hour.  Knight later stated, “[It] was a lot faster than anyone had ever really anticipated.”  She went on to comment, “They could likely go even faster without the heavy tags on them.”

       The biologists also learned the butterflies flew faster when they were pushed along by a tailwind.  This was demonstrated by one butterfly that was clocked flying at a bit under 18.5 miles per hour with the aid of a tailwind.

      It was also discovered that monarchs flew faster in warm weather.  However, the butterflies were not able to fly until the temperature reached 50˚F and flight speed dropped when the air temperature reached 73˚F.

       It is definitely true the more we learn about these stunning insects the more we realize why they are so special.

THERE IS A SNAKE ON MY HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER!

       How would like to look out your window and spot a snake wrapped around your hummingbird feeder?  This is just what recently happened to Upson County blogger Wanda Granitz.

       Needless to say, the rat snake dangling from her feeder was not visiting to partake in a sip of nectar.  It was attempting to grab a hummingbird or two. 

       Like most predators, snakes are very opportunistic.  Whenever they locate a concentration of prey, they will try to take advantage of the situation whether they find an abundance of frogs, insects, mice, or hummingbirds.

       There are many other critters that capture hummingbirds.  These predators include bullfrogs, hawks, shrikes, cats, praying mantises, spiders, and others.  However, aside from cats we rarely see hummingbirds capture one of these flying jewels.

       Fortunately, for hummingbirds and their devoted fans, the unnerving sight of a snake curled around a feeder is not common.  If you are like me, you have never witnessed anything like this in your yard.  In fact, in all the years I worked as a wildlife biologist, I received only a handful of reports of snakes trying to feed on hummingbirds visiting a feeder.

       However, if you do happen to spot a rat snake on your hummingbird feeder, one of the best things you can do to protect the hummers is capture the snake and move it some distance from your home.  Do not simply release it elsewhere in your yard.  If you do, chances are it will return to dine on these flying delicacies at a later time.

DO NOT FORGET TO DEADHEAD MEXICAN SUNFLOWERS

        Humans and butterflies alike are drawn to the bold orange blossoms of the Mexican sunflower.  The problem is by the middle of August the blooms displayed by this tall plant are often quickly fading.  This is unfortunate for those of us that enjoy its stunning beauty and the butterflies and other pollinators that feed at its showy flowers.

       With this in mind, if you deadhead the spent blossoms displayed by your Mexican sunflower plants, they will produce a new crop of flowers that will continue to contribute their beauty to our gardens and be a source of nectar for butterflies such as monarchs later in the year when nectar will be less abundant than it is right now.

BACKYARD SECRET: FEW NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS HAVE BLUE FEATHERS

       Blue jays and eastern bluebirds are undoubtedly the two most common blue birds seen in Georgia backyards.  In addition, from time to time we also spot indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, and other birds that display varying amounts of blue feathers just outside our backdoors. 

      Since we regularly see birds that display the color blue you might be surprised to learn only two percent of all of the species of birds found in North America have blue feathers.