LOOK FOR CAROLINA CHICKADEES HIDING SEEDS

Now that temperatures are finally beginning to drop, activity around our bird feeders is on the rise.  When this happens, we have the opportunity to witness the fascinating feeding behaviors of our feathered guests.

       A behavior I particularly enjoy watching is caching.  One bird that routinely stores seeds in my backyard is the Carolina chickadee. 

       If you feed birds, you are undoubtedly familiar with this feathered sprite.  It is particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds.  Typically, a Carolina chickadee will fly in, pluck a single sunflower seed from a feeder, and fly off to a nearby branch.  Once there it firmly holds the seed, between its feet and quickly chisels the seed’s hull open, and swallows the exposed fat-rich seed.  The bird then returns to a feeder and repeats the process.  This behavior is replayed countless times throughout the day.

       However, if you are patient, and watch Carolina chickadees feeding in your backyard, you just might be lucky enough to see a chickadee store a seed. 

NOVEMBER IS A PERFECT TIME TO PUT UP A BIRD BOX

       I would venture to say most people would not think of putting up a bird box in November.  However, if you stop and think about it, it is the perfect time to take on this labor of love.

       This is a great idea because cavity nesting birds such as eastern bluebirds, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice and the like use tree cavities and nest boxes for roosting and nesting.  Consequently, by erecting a box at this time of the year you box will serve as a winter roosting site and be available for nesting next spring.

       There are rarely enough winter roost sites available for the birds that use them.  Take eastern bluebirds, for example.  At this time of the year, your neighborhood can serve as the winter home for adult bluebirds that nested this year, their young and migrants from points north.

       The ability of cavity nesting birds to find a winter roost site prior to a frigid winter night can be critical to their survival.  Those that cannot locate such cover stand the chance of freezing to death before morning.

       If you are going to erect a new box, here are a few things you can do to make it a bit cozier for winter occupants.  First, place an inch or so of dry wood chips or dry grass in the bottom of the box. 

       Some folks even go to the trouble of covering the bottom of the box with a piece of Styrofoam.  If you do so, bore a few holes in the Styrofoam for water to drain out of the box.

       Another modification you might consider is plugging the box’s vent holes this prevents warm air from escaping the box.  If you add a piece of Styrofoam and/or plug the vent holes, remove the insulation before spring.

       You can also drill a couple of holes on either side of the box.  A wooden dowel can be inserted through the holes.  By so doing, you are providing roosting birds with a perch.  At the end of the winter, the dowel can be removed before nesting season.  Since upwards of 20 or more birds will sometimes roost in a bluebird nesting box on a cold night, the dowel will make it more comfortable for the birds escaping the cold.

       If you are curious as to whether or not your box is being used as a winter roost site, simply inspect it for signs of use.  If birds are roosting there, they often leave behind feathers, droppings, and sometimes food.

       A word of caution: do not check a box at night.  Birds disrupted during the night will often stop using the box from then on.

       Finally, before putting up a box, place a metal hole guard around the entrance hole.  This prevents squirrels from enlarging the hole and ruining the box.

IT TAKES TIME TO GROW AN ACORN

Oaks are among the very best native wild food plants.  The trees themselves are used as a host plant by well more than 500 species of moths and butterflies.  If that is not enough, their seeds (acorns) provide food for scores of birds and mammals, many of which inhabit out backyard.

As such, it is not surprising many homeowners want one or more oaks growing in their yards.  The problem is it takes a long time to produce a crop of acorns.  Laurel oaks usually do not produce their first acorn until they are 15-20 years old.  Water oaks bear acorns in around 20 years.  On the other end of the scale, scarlet, southern red and white oaks can take 50 or more years before they sport their first acorns.

With that in mind, when clearing a lot for a new home or simply opening up an existing yard, try to leave an oak that might shortly or already bearing acorns.

If you do not already have an oak on your property, go ahead and plant one.  Although it might take what seems like a very long time before you will see its first acorn, realize time flies by quicker than you might think.  In the meantime, think about all of the moths and butterflies that will be raised on your tree before it matures.

 

MONARCH VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

I have used hummingbird feeders for more than four decades.  During that time, I have spent countless hours watching the comings of and goings of literally thousands of hummingbirds.

I have also witnessed Baltimore Orioles and house finches drinking nectar at hummingbird feeders.

Earlier this year I posted a blog and picture of a downy woodpecker visiting a feeder in McDonough.

As for butterflies, red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs are most often seen making brief visits to my feeders.  I have even spotted an American snout or two drop in for a visit.  However, I cannot say for sure the snouts were actually feeding on nectar.

After having logged untold numbers of hours watching my hummingbird feeders, you can imagine how surprised I was about a week ago when a monarch fed at one of my feeders for most of an afternoon.  One visit lasted over fifteen minutes.  During that time, the monarch had the tip of its proboscis dipped into the reservoir of sugar water at the base of the feeder.

Interestingly, there was one other monarch in the yard throughout this time.  However, it did not even attempt to drink at the feeder. 

I should also mention that a specially designed butterfly feeder hung a few feet away and neither butterfly paid it any attention.

Records of monarchs visiting hummingbird feeders are few and far between.  With that in mind, I will always wonder why this particular butterfly chose to feed at my feeder on a warm Saturday afternoon.

A week has passed now and no monarch has made another visit to my feeder.  I hope I do not have to wait years for another monarch to discover a bounty of nectar in one of my feeders.

In the meantime, please let me know if a monarch has ever visited a feeder in your backyard.

 

 

WELCOME THE POTTER WASP TO YOUR YARD

I recently discovered irrefutable evidence that potter wasps are among the fascinating insects that inhabit my yard.  Although I have not been able to identify any adult potter wasps on my property, I found a couple of their amazing pots.
POTTER WASP NESTS

Potter wasps range from 1/2-5/8″ long.  Their body color ranges from dark blue to black and marked with yellow or white.

There are some 270 species of potter wasps in the United States and Canada.  Members of the genus Eumenes build mud nests that look like clay pots, complete with short necks.  Interestingly, it is thought Native Americans used potter wasp nests as inspiration for some of their pottery.

The pots are constructed from the soil found nearby.  Since the soil in my yard is red, the potter wasp nests shown here are red.

Typically a female potter wasp will lay a single egg in a pot.  She then proceeds to capture and paralyze all sorts of critters such as spiders, caterpillars and beetle larvae and stuffs them into the pot.

When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the bounty of food surrounding it.  Depending on the species, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year before an adult potter wasp slips through the narrow opening at the top of the pot and flies away.

Potter wasps help control insect pests and, since the adults feed on nectar, they help pollinate a variety of flowers.

Look for potter wasps around your yard.  The pots can be found on leaves and stem or in more bizarre locations.  The pots in the accompanying photograph were discovered attached to the body of our vehicle.

I recently discovered irrefutable evidence that potter wasps are among the fascinating insects that inhabit my yard.  Although I have not been able to identify any adult potter wasps on my property, I found a couple of their amazing pots.

Potter wasps range from 1/2-5/8″ long.  Their body color ranges from dark blue to black and marked with yellow or white.

There are some 270 species of potter wasps in the United States and Canada.  Members of the genus Eumenes build mud nests that look like clay pots, complete with short necks.  Interestingly, it is thought Native Americans used potter wasp nests as inspiration for some of their pottery.

The pots are constructed from the soil found nearby.  Since the soil in my yard is red, the potter wasp nests shown here are red.

Typically a female potter wasp will lay a single egg in a pot.  She then proceeds to capture and paralyze all sorts of critters such as spiders, caterpillars and beetle larvae and stuffs them into the pot.

When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the bounty of food surrounding it.  Depending on the species, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year before an adult potter wasp slips through the narrow opening at the top of the pot and flies away.

Potter wasps help control insect pests and, since the adults feed on nectar, they help pollinate a variety of flowers.

Look for potter wasps around your yard.  The pots can be found on leaves and stem or in more bizarre locations.  The pots in the accompanying photograph were discovered attached to the body of our vehicle.

PHOTOGRAPHING WILDLIFE THROUGH YOUR WINDOWS

       At some time or another, practically all of us have tried to photograph wildlife through the windows of our houses.  However, in far too many cases, when we pull up the images on our computer we are not happy with their quality.

       To say the least, photographing wildlife through windows is a difficult proposition.  Here are a few tips that just might help you take better pictures through your windows.

       It goes without saying that the best pictures are made through the highest quality window glass.  If your windows appear wavy, you are doomed to failure.

       If the window glass in your house shows little distortion, before taking any photographs thoroughly clean them.

       Then when a photo opportunity suddenly presents itself, shut off the lights in the room where you are standing.  This accomplishes two things.  First, it cuts down on reflections.  In addition, I have found that I can move about a darkened room more easily without frightening the wildlife I am trying to photograph.

       Even then, as you get into position to take a photo, move very slowly, and avoid any quick movements.

       If possible, try to take your pictures from a spot where the camera lens is parallel with the glass.

       Once you get into position, hold the camera lens as close to the glass as possible.

       If you are going to use a flash, place it close to the glass also.

       Refrain from taking pictures when the sun’s rays are streaming directly toward your window.

       These tips may help you take better backyard wildlife shots.  However, it has been my experience that I can consistently take better pictures when I raise the window just high enough to focus on my subject through this opening.  When I am able to do this, I know the odds of my taking a picture are much better.

 

POISON IVY FRUITS & SEEDS ARE RELISHED BY MANY BACKYARD BIRDS

        For our backyard bird neighbors that eat fruits and berries, autumn is a time of plenty.  During this glorious time of the year, many of the native and ornamental plants that grow in our yards are laden with fruits and berries.  Most of these plants such as oaks, dogwoods, sumacs, zinnias, are easily recognizable.  However, other fruit and berry-bearing plants are often overlooked.  Believe it or not, one such plant is poison ivy. 

       I doubt that even the most dedicated wildlife enthusiasts encourage poison ivy to grow in their yards.  However, as hard as we might try to eliminate this woody vine from our property, invariably the plant’s woody vines decorated with three leaflets crop up again and again.

       Should you find a healthy poison ivy vine growing in an undeveloped corner or along the edge of your yard, as long it could serve as a source of food for birds without posing as a threat to you.

          If the dried fruits and seeds are not gobbled up in the fall, they provide a nutritious source of food for more than a dozen backyard birds well into winter.

       The list of birds known to eat the fruits and seeds of this reviled native include the eastern bluebird, Carolina chickadee, northern flicker, dark-eyed junco, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-throated sparrow, tufted titmouse, yellow-rumped warbler, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, as well as hairy, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers.

       If you look at your yard as a giant smorgasbord, it may be a little easier for you to look at a smattering of poison ivy vines in a different light.  Just do not touch them.