CONTAINER GARDENS ATTRACT WILDLIFE

        If you would like to attract wildlife to your backyard, but do not have a lot of space, time or equipment, consider planting wildlife friendly plants in containers.

       This year, my wife planted eight containers with a variety of flowers in hopes adding some color to our deck and food for some of our wildlife neighbors.  The results of her efforts have exceeded our expectations.

      Before I get started, I would like to tell you something about our backyard.  We have a fairly large backyard in which over the years we have planted a multitude of ornamental and native plants.  These plants have enhanced the beauty of our yard as well as provided our wildlife neighbors with an abundance of food throughout much to the year.  These plants range from host and plants for butterflies and moths, nectar plants for wild nectar feeders and seed and berries-producing plants for birds and other wildlife.

       As you can see, we did not have to resort to container gardens to attract wildlife, however, we were captivated with thought of being able to observe and photograph wildlife without having to leave our deck.

       This year my wife planted eight containers with scarlet sage, lantana, zinnia, black-eyed susan, and cosmos.  Since she has a green thumb, all of these plants have flourished creating a kaleidoscope of color. As the blossoms produced by these plants increased, so has the  wildlife visiting them.

       On any given day, we can sit on the deck and enjoy the comings and goings of bumblebees, American ladies, eastern tiger swallowtails, pipevine and spicebush swallowtails, nothern and southern cloudywings, gulf fritillaries, Horace’s and zarucco duskywings, pearl crescents, common buckeyes, as well as fiery, long-tailed, silver-spotted, fiery, clouded, checkered, ocola and dun skippers, to name but a few. In addition, ruby-throated hummingbirds make forays to the plants throughout the day.  Just this past week, as I sat beneath the umbrella shading a patio table, a ruby-throated hummingbird fed at Scarlet sage blossoms just four feet away.  Suddenly out of nowhere, another rubythroat flew in and chased the feeding bird away.

       Close encounters with butterflies and hummingbirds are commonplace.  In addition, the flowers have provided terrific opportunities to study wildlife close at hand without the aid of a pair of binoculars. 

       In addition, we have taken untold close up photos of butterflies, bees, and other nectar feeders attracted to our container gardens. 

       Creating these mini gardens has provided our wildlife neighbors with an abundance of food, and allowed us to gain a better appreciation of those critters that live just outside our backdoor.   Believe me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

BACKYARD SECRET: MOST BIRDS THAT NEST IN NORTH AMERICA MIGRATE

        From now into autumn, untold millions of birds that nested throughout North America will be migrating southward to their wintering grounds.  In fact, approximately 75 percent of the birds that nest across the length and breadth of the continent migrate.

       Some of the migrants that nest in our backyards include the gray catbird, orchard oriole, Baltimore oriole, barn swallow, tree swallow, chimney swift, summer tanager, great crested flycatcher, wood thrush, and ruby-throated hummingbird.

PROTECTING PETS FROM COYOTES IN BACKYARDS

       Regardless of whether you live in a large city, small town, subdivision or in the rural countryside  you need to protect your small dogs and cats from coyotes.

       Georgia’s coyote population is rapidly expanding.  This is truly remarkable when you consider the coyote is not native to the Peach State.  However, since the 1850s the range of the coyote has increased threefold and now can be found in every state with the exception of Alaska.

       As the coyote has expanded its range, it has demonstrated its adaptability for living in a variety of new habitats by altering their diet to fit the food available.  In other words, in addition to dining on rodents and rabbits, in some areas their diets include birdseed and an occasional small domestic pet.

       Although it is unlikely a coyote will capture your small pet, by adopting a handful of preventative measures you can guarantee that it will never happen.

       It is always a good idea not to let your cats and small dogs stay outside at night.  Coyotes hunt at night and, if given a chance, they will prey on small domestic animals.

       If it is necessary to let your pet out for a “bathroom” break from dusk to dawn,  go outside with it, keeping it within sight at all times.  During this time frequently talk to your pet.  This will alert a coyote that a human is close by.  A healthy coyote will avoid humans.  In addition, it is also best to keep your pet on a leash.

       If you feed pets outside, remove any uneaten food by sundown.  Pet food will attract a variety mammals such as opossums, foxes, skunks, and rodents.  Coyotes will also eat the food as well as many of the other mammals they attract.

THE UNCOMMONLY BEAUTIFUL COMMON BUCKEYE

       Like it or not, whenever somebody mentions the common buckeye, unless you are familiar with this backyard butterfly, it is easy it as being drab.  This is unfortunate since it is truly uncommonly beautiful.

       The common buckeye is medium sized with a 1.5-2.7-inch wingspan.  Males and female look alike, however, females are usually larger, and have bigger spots on the hindwings and broader wings than the males.

       From above, each wing on this brownish butterfly displays white patches and two orange bars, and a large eyespot on each of their forewings.  The hindwings are marked with two eyespots.  The underwings are colored with varying shades of brown and a white band. 

       The common buckeye uses its large eyespots to confuse would-be predators.  For example, often birds will strike at a buckeye’s eyespots instead of its body.  This enables the butterfly to fly away with nothing more than a damaged wing.  The common buckeye ranges across the entire state.  Some common buckeyes can be seen flying about during the winter, particularly in South Georgia.  However, from the Piedmont south, they can be seen most often from March into early November.  Buckeyes are most common in north Georgia from spring to fall.

       Although some common buckeyes overwinter in the warmer sections of the Peach State, this butterfly actually migrates.  Often their migrations are more pronounced along river corridors and the coastline.  In the spring, some migrants actually reach Canada.  In the fall, migrants head south with most wintering throughout Florida and the lower portions of the southern states.

       In Georgia, common buckeyes have upwards of four broods a year.

       The list of host plants used by the common buckeye includes snapdragon, figworts, wild petunia, plantains, and false foxglove.

       Since this uncommonly beautiful butterfly readily nectars on backyard nectar plants, it can add a touch of color to large and small yards across the entire state.

SOME BUTTERFLIES JUST CANNOT WAIT

         Like a growing number of other backyard wildlife enthusiasts I am incorporating native plants into my home landscape. To date, I have been pleased with native plants I have introduced that produce seeds, fruits, berries and/or nectar for my wildlife neighbors.  I wish I could say the same for two caterpillar host plants—passionflower and spicebush.  My problem with them is two of the butterflies that lay their eggs on them do so long before the plants can become established. 

       This problem first cropped up several years ago when I tried to grow passionflower in my yard.  After vainly trying to grow the plants from seeds, I planted young plants.  Much to my delight the plants did well and soon slender passionflower vines inched their way up a nearby fence. 

       One day when I went out to look at my rapidly growing vines I spotted a number of spike-covered orange and black gulf fritillary caterpillars munching on the vines’ tender leaves.  At first I was thrilled that gulf fritillaries were using my plants as hosts for their caterpillars.

       My delight soon changed to concern when it became the insatiable caterpillars quickly devoured every single leaf on the vines.  They then proceeded to eat the vines down to the ground.

       Although my crop of passionflower leaves was exhausted for that growing season, I was hoping the plants would come back the following year.

       The next spring I kept looking for the passionflower vines to emerge from the ground.  When this did not happen I realized the caterpillars had destroyed the plants the previous year.

       This problem resurfaced when I transplanted a healthy four-foot tall spicebush in my backyard last year.  Aided by frequent watering, the small shrub grew well. Much to my surprise, in 2017 I did not see a single spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the plant.

       This spring the tree sprouted a meager crop of fresh green leaves. Eventually, I notice a number of folded-over leaf shelters on the leaves.  This was a sure sign tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars  were hiding beneath their green leaf shelters.  In a matter of days, these voracious caterpillars ate every single leaf on my spicebush.  I was hoping I was not facing a replay of my experience with passionflowers.

       My fear that caterpillars had once again destroyed a host plant in my yard was alleviated when I noticed small green buds had appeared at the shrub’s woody base.  Perhaps I still had a chance to save the plant.

       I decided the best thing I could do to save the shrub was to somehow prevent female spicebush swallowtails from laying their eggs on the few newly-sprouted leaves.  With that in mind, I have wrapped a small piece of bird netting around the base of the plant in hopes spicebush swallowtails will not be able to extend the tips of her abdomens through the netting far enough to lay their eggs on the new leaves; only time will tell whether or not my efforts will prove successful.  

 In the meantime I am checking the shrub daily to see if my efforts prove to be successful.  I also want to make sure a snake doesn’t become entangled in the netting.

If it works, I might just try to plant passionflower again.  In the meantime, I just wish butterflies would be a little more patient.

       If you have discovered a solution to this dilemma, please let me know.

GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER SAMPLES SUET

If you are lucky, each spring a pair of great crested flycatchers will choose to nest in your backyard.  During their brief time with you they will dine on a protein-rich diet of spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, butterflies, moths and other assorted invertebrates.  These critters are so important to these large, loud flycatchers they comprise more than ninety-five percent of their diet.  About the only other food they consume is a smattering of fruits and berries.

In spite of the fact these birds often live within sight of your feeders, they rarely drop in and sample the cuisine you offer at your backyard bird cafe. In fact, until recently I had personally never heard of a great crested flycatcher feeding at a feeder.

That changed recently when Ron Lee, a Henry County backyard wildlife enthusiast, reported he witnessed a great crested flycatcher feeding on suet.  The bird did not dine on suet offered in a mesh suet feeder.  Instead the hungry ate bits of suet littering the ground beneath the feeder. 

Wow! I wish that I had witnessed this rare event.

It will be interesting to see if this proves to be a onetime event or the bird will continue to take advantage of this new food.

I think it would be great if this great crested flycatcher is a trend setter and other members of its feathered clan will follow its lead and begin feeding at our feeders too.

BACKYARD SECRET: WORKER HONEYBEES CHANGE JOBS

            Since the only honeybees most of us see are those that visit flowers foraging for pollen and nectar, it is natural to assume that this is the only task these tireless workers perform during their lives.

       The truth of the matter is female workers begin their lives taking care of the tiny larvae in the hive.  Then, when they reach the ripe old age of two to three weeks, they suddenly become for foragers and leave the confines of the hive to collect to food.  Once they make this career change, they will perform this job throughout the rest of their lives.