A RARE WHITE MOCKINGBIRD

       Whenever a white bird shows up in a backyard it is a special event.  Each year I receive from one to three reports of white ruby-throated hummingbirds appearing in backyards across the state.  A few years ago, a close friend photographed a white northern cardinal visiting his feeders.  In addition, many years ago a Middle Georgia couple reported a white bluebird nesting in one of their nesting boxes.  However, until a few weeks ago I had never been notified of a white northern mockingbird sighting.

       As you can see from the accompanying photograph, this bird is almost totally white except for a few black feathers on its wings.  The bird’s feet and bill are pinkish white.  However, the mockingbird’s eyes are dark.

       Ornithologists might argue as to whether this bird displays albinism or leucism.  However, I believe this mockingbird is a type of albino.  This condition is brought about by the bird lacking any pigment called melanin.

       The four types of albinism are true (sometimes referred to as total), incomplete, imperfect and partial.

       A true albino’s plumage is totally white whereas its legs, feet, and bill are white to pinkish.  A true albino’s eyes are always pink or red.  The presence of black feathers in the same areas of both wings, and seemingly dark eyes, leads me to believe this bird is a partial albino.

       Albinism has been documented among some 304 species of North American birds.  Interestingly, it is most commonly occurs in blackbirds, American robins, crows, and hawks.

       If an albino bird shows up in your yard, it will be an experience you will long remember.  I have never seen a white bird in my yard, however, several years ago a partial albino hummingbird fed at my neighbors’ feeders.  I was sure it would fly over to my feeders.  However, for some reason, it never did.  To have one come that close to your yard is tough to take.  However, I have never given up hope I will see a white bird in my yard.  Perhaps one will magically appear this year.

AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES ARE LATE NESTERS

         For the last several weeks, American goldfinches have been mighty scarce around my feeders.  However, last week I was surprised to see a male American Goldfinch sharing sunflower seeds with a small group of house finches.  Seeing the bird in full breeding plumage was a reminder that, unlike many birds, the American goldfinch waits until spring to undergo a complete body molt.  Many ornithologists believe this may be linked to the fact that The American goldfinch nest far later than most other Georgia songbirds.

       According to this theory, since such a molt requires the bird to expend a huge amount of energy, it lessens its ability to nest until later in the year after their energy reserves have been replenished.  In the case of Georgia American goldfinches, it is just about time for them to begin nesting.

       The American goldfinch nesting season in the Peach State commences in late June, however, it reaches its peak in July and August.  Some females will even be nesting as late as September.

       These nesting habits will affect the numbers of goldfinches we will see at our feeders.  Once nesting begins, during the 12-14 days the females are incubating their eggs they will have little time to feed.  Consequently, during period we are likely to see males more often at our feeders than females.

DON’T FORGET TO DEADHEAD BUTTERFLY BUSHES

       Butterfly bushes are truly butterfly magnets.  However, if you want them to continue blooming from now until migrating monarchs pass through out state months down to road; you must deadhead the plant’s spent blossoms.

       For reasons I do not understand, this spring my butterfly bushes have been covered with the largest clusters of flowers they have ever produced.  Unfortunately, few butterflies were around to enjoy them.  However, lots of bumblebees, honeybees, and carpenter bees constantly visited the nectar-rich blossoms while they were blooming. 

       Fortunately, butterfly bushes can be encouraged to produce a bounty of flowers throughout much of the growing season.  All it takes is deadheading the bush’s flower clusters before they go to seed.

         Butterfly bush w/spent blossoms

       Recently I deadheaded my butterfly bushes for the first time this year.  From experience, I know I will have to repeat this procedure many times.  However, I realize that, if I am diligent, countless butterflies and other pollinators will benefit from the food produced by crop after crop of fresh flowers.  In the past, I have been successful in prolonging the butterfly bushes’ blooming until the monarchs en route to their wintering home in Mexico.  When they use my yard as a stopover area on their epic journey it is not uncommon to see anywhere from four to eight monarchs on a single butterfly bush.

       When deadheading a cluster of flowers, remove the spent cluster down to the spot close to the point when the main flower stem joins two side branches.  If this is done at the right time, the two side branches will quickly produce flowers too.  When the blooms on the main branch and side branches have already turned brown simply, cut the stem just above the next juncture of side branches and the main stem.

       This is definitely a case where a little time spent cutting back spent flowers will produce a beautiful bush and remain a source of nectar throughout the summer.        

BACKYARD SECRET–NATIVE BEES ARE OFTEN MORE EFFICIENT POLLINATORS THAN HONEY BEES

       As odd as it may sound, many of our native bees are at least three times more efficient pollinators as the introduced honeybee.

       Take for example the bumblebee: many of us grow blueberries in our yards.  Many pollinators including honeybees and bumblebees visit the blueberry plant’s creamy white flowers.  Studies have demonstrated that a honeybee would have to visit a blueberry flower four times to deposit the same amount of pollen as a bumblebee can in only one visit. 

       In addition, native bees are more common than honeybees in many of our yards.  Unfortunately, few honey bees visit the flowers in my yard.  Luckily, tiny solitary, bumble, and carpenter bees are routinely seen visiting a wide range of flowers found there.

       This summer, as you walk around your flower and vegetable gardens take note of the bees you find pollinating your flowers.  If you do, don’t be surprised if you see very few honeybees and an abundance of native bees hard at work pollinating the plants that provide you with food and a cascade of beautiful flowers.

       I am convinced that we are guilty of underestimating the value of the 532 species of native bees that can be found flying throughout Georgia.

HERE IS WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU FIND A YOUNG BIRD ON THE GROUND

      Every year countless Georgia homeowners find helpless young birds on the ground beneath trees and shrubs.  In some cases, the young birds and their nests are torn out of a tree by an intense storm.  In other cases, a young bird simply accidentally falls from its nest.  If you happen across such a bird, do you know what to do?

       If you find a hatchling, look about and see if you can locate its nest.  If you do locate it, simply place the young bird back in the nest.  More than likely, parents are perched nearby and will resume raising the youngster.

       On the other hand, if you find a whole or partial nest containing young, place the nest or its remains and young birds in something like a hanging basket.  If the container is much larger than the nest, place the nest atop some mulch (choose mulch that will not get soggy when wet).  Then hang it in the tree as close as you can to its original location.

       After you have replaced the nest and young birds all you can do is wait.  In the best-case scenario, the parents will return to the young.  However, after a reasonable length of time, if the parents have not returned to claim their hatchlings, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

       A list of Georgia’s licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found at www.gadnrle.org.  Once you open the site scroll down the subject list to Wildlife rehabilitators.  These dedicated, skilled individuals are listed by county and the types of wildlife they are qualified to treat.

IT’S MULBERRY TIME!

       One of my favorite times of the year is when the mulberries begin to ripen on my backyard mulberry tree.  While my wife and I enjoy eating the sweet juicy berries, what I enjoy even more is watching the parade of birds that flock to the devour every berry in sight.

       Yesterday, my long wait for this special event ended when I noticed the tree is festooned with berries.  Although most of the berries are not ripe, I have learned that the hungry birds begin devouring the berries well before they are fully ripe.

       The birds that flock to mulberries are all card-carrying members of the bird world’s Who’s Who List.  While I am not a usually a name-dropper, the list of a few of the birds that eat mulberries includes bird royalty such as the eastern bluebird, rose-breasted grosbeak, great crested flycatcher, scarlet and summer tanagers, wood thrush, red-eyed vireo, northern bobwhite and wild turkey. 

   

CEDAR WAXWING EATING A MULBERRY

       One of the neatest things about the watching birds feeding in a mulberry tree is you are very likely to see multiple species of birds feeding at the same time.  It is not impossible to a dozen more species of birds gorging on mulberries during a feeding orgy.

       If you have a mulberry growing in your yard, you have probably witnessed the spring invasions of birds seeking mulberries.  However, if your yard is not blessed with this magical tree, and is large (the tree can grow to a height of 60-70′ or more) enough to accommodate this fast-growing tree, plant one.  While several introduced species of mulberries of mulberries grow in Georgia, the one you should buy is the red mulberry (Morus rubra) since it is the only mulberry native to Georgia.

       This investment will pay dividends for decades to come.

BACKYARD SECRET–INVERTEBRATES COMPRISE MOST OF THE CAROLINA WREN’S DIET

      The Carolina wren is one of our favorite backyard birds.  Most of us are likely to either see or hear one in our yards every day of the year.  In my case, I hear the bird’s loud tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle from early morning until dark.  Although Carolina wrens will occasionally visit our feeders (especially in winter), we rarely see them feeding away from our feeders.  That being the case, have you ever wondered what these hyperactive active birds eat throughout the year?

       The answer to that question is a wide variety of invertebrates such as insects, spiders, caterpillars, and millipedes.  These small animals comprise a whopping ninety-five percent of the Carolina wren’s diet.  Since a Carolina wren must eat slightly less than half an ounce of these critters, each day just to meet its body’s metabolic needs that means this wren is eating a lot of insects.  To put this in perspective, each month each of the Carolina wrens that inhabit your yards eats roughly a pound of some of the smallest and least revered members of our backyard animal community.

       I guess this explains why we rarely see a Carolina wren just resting. They must continually hunt to survive.  When we do catch a glimpse of one, it is hopping through our shrubs and gardens, or checking out the eaves of our houses, barns other spots where spiders and insects lurk. 

       They truly lead a very busy life away from our bird feeders.

DISCOURAGING BEARS FROM PAYING YOU A VISIT

       When most Georgia homeowners fuss about the problems caused by wild animals making a nuisance around their home they are typically referring to the likes of white-tailed deer, opossums, raccoons, and eastern chipmunks.  However, some of us also have to contend with an animal that takes being a nuisance to a new level.  The animal I am talking about is the black bear.     

       Some 4,100 black bears live in the Peach State.  Most of these large animals never have a conflict with humans.  However, as the state’s black bear population grows, and humans continue to convert bear habitat into residential areas, it is highly likely that human-bear encounters will increase.  However, when a bear destroys a valuable bird feeder, explores a front porch, or scatters trash across a yard people often become frightened and are left wondering what can be done to ensure such events will cease.

       According to Adam Hammond, Georgia’s state bear biologist, “Avoiding problems with bears is usually simple, though it may not always be convenient.” 

                          photo credit: GA DNR Wildlife Resources Division

       In an effort to assist homeowners deal with bear problems, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and 14 other state wildlife agencies have developed an educational program named BearWise.  Below you will find six BearWise recommendations that will help you safely deal with bears in your yard.

  1. Never feed or approach a bear.
  2. Secure food, garbage, and recycling. Since bears are attracted to food odors, don’t store garbage or other food-related items outside.
  3. Remove bird feeders when bears are active in your area.
  4. Never leave pet food outdoors.
  5. Thoroughly clean outdoor grills after they have been used. In addition, store grills insecure locations.
  6. If you happen to see a bear close by, notify your neighbors.  If you and your neighbors take preventative measures, bears will not be able to find food and will look elsewhere for a free meal.

              One the other hand, if you and your neighbors do not take preventative measures to discourage bears, chances are bear problems will become more frequent.  This, in turn, can lead to increased property damage and potentially dangerous encounters between humans, pets, and bears.

              More detailed information can be obtained by visiting www.bearwise.org

FEEDING SUET IN HOT WEATHER

     Suet has long been considered a food that should only be fed to our bird neighbors in the winter.  The reasons for this are during hot weather suet easily melts creating quite a mess, turns rancid, and when smeared on a bird’s feathers harm their ability to repel water.  In addition, when it melts, its aroma has a tendency to attract unwanted visitors.  Nowadays, however, if you know what you are doing, it is possible feed birds suet throughout the year.

       Suet’s reputation of being only winter food offering surfaced back in the day when the only suet available to bird enthusiasts was animal fat preferably trimmed off the carcasses of cattle.  Folks either would buy raw suet from the local butcher as feed it as is or render it themselves.  Today suet is difficult purchase at the grocery store.  Consequently, most of us buy blocks of rendered suet at stores that sell bird products.   

       Pure suet is an outstanding bird food.  However, since it does melt when temperatures reach 90˚F and above, it should be avoided in hot weather.  With that in mind, if you want to offer suet to birds in warm weather, turn your attention to suet labeled no-melt or no-drip suet.  The only suets of this type that I have found are not what you can technically call pure suet since they contain a variety of other foods.  One term that is often used to describe them is bird pudding.

       For a number of years, I have fed a bird pudding containing peanut butter and peanuts.  The birds are so fond of it I offer it to them throughout the year.  Consequently, in addition to attracting a wide variety of winter residents, feeding it to them during the spring and summer has provided me some fantastic viewing opportunities that I would have otherwise missed had I limited using it only during the colder months.

       For example, one afternoon last week the bird activity around a wire feeder containing suet laced with peanut butter and peanuts was exceptionally high.  In roughly an hour, the feeder was visited by two hairy woodpeckers, a brown-headed nuthatch, gray catbird, cardinals, house finches, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, chipping sparrow, and Carolina chickadees.

       I particularly enjoyed the visits of the hairy woodpeckers and Carolina chickadees.  Since I do not often see hairy woodpeckers in my yard, spotting two was quite a treat.  First, an adult arrived and ate for quite some time.  While it was dining, an immature hairy woodpecker suddenly landed on the Shepherd’s hook holding up the feeder.  The youngster landed near the top of the long metal pole and immediately slid down about a foot before flying up to the top of the rod for another try.  As expected, he slid down the post again.  It was amusing to watch as the bird vainly tried several times to hold on to the slim metal pole. Finally, it gave up and flew directly to the wire feeder and began feeding.

       As for the Carolina chickadees, as well as I can remember, I have never seen four of them converge on a feeder at one time.  All that changed when four flew in and ate suet together.  They would peck at the food for a few minutes and fly off only to return in a few minutes. 

       I am convinced this was probably a family group.

       If you try, feeding suet from now through summer, use no-melt or no-drip suet.  Place your feeder in the shade and monitor the food very closely.  If you notice it is melting or turning rancid, remove it.  The safety and health of our feathered neighbors should always be your paramount concern.

HEAL-ALL IS POPULAR WITH BUTTERFLIES RIGHT NOW

      Recently I participated in the Annual Spring Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count.  All of the participants I have talked to since the count have told me that they found more butterflies on a wildflower known as Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris) than any other plant.

       The plant is also known by a number of other names such as prunella, carpenter’s herb, woundwort, heart-of-the-earth, and self heal. 

       Heal-all has long been recognized as a nectar plant used by butterflies, bees and other nectar feeders.  However, many books dedicated to attracting butterflies either do not mention it at all, or, if they do, provide little information pertaining to the plant.

       Depending on whom you talk to heal-all either is a native or naturalized plant in Georgia.  However, at least three varieties of heal-all grow in Georgia.

       During the count, we found the plant growing in sunny (the plant will also grow in partial shade) areas along roadsides, disturbed sites, and small unmowed tracts.  In most cases, the plants were growing in dry soil.

       In spite of its value as a nectar source, it is rarely planted in gardens.  In years past, this was not the case.  Back in the day, the plant was grown more as a medicinal plant that for its small, showy lavender flowers. 

       Blossoms appear on thick cylindrical spikes.  The plant’s square stem-bearing flowers typically reach a height of a foot or more.  The plants we encountered are now in full bloom.  Deadheading the blossoms will extend the plant’s blooming period.

       Those gardeners that utilize the plant for butterflies often incorporate it in natural gardens or use it in borders.  Heal-all can even be grown in larger containers.

       Plants can be divided in spring or grown from seed.  If you want to prevent them from seeding, cut off the flower heads before they produce seeds.

       If you have some unmowed spots on your property, you might find heal-all growing there.  If you cannot find heal-all growing near your home, and want to see what it looks like drive  slowly driving down country roads.  Chances are you will find patches of heal-all.  If you stop to look at one or more of the heal-all stands, do not be surprised if you find several species of butterflies feeding on heal-all nectar. 

       After you become acquainted with heal-all, you can see why I feel it is an underrated nectar plant.