THE BLUEBIRD EGGSHELL MYSTERY

Have you ever wondered what happens to the shells left after bluebird hatchlings peck their way into the light of day?   You do not see them in the nest nor on the ground beneath a nest box.  Since you know they do not simply vanish into thin air, there must be a logical answer to this age-old mystery. Actually, one of two things can happen to the shells.  Most birds, including the eastern bluebird, carry the shells some distance from a nest and simply drop them.  This is why, as you walk about your yard, you sometimes stumble across wild bird eggshells in places where no nests are in sight.  Many bird experts suggest this behavior makes it more difficult for a predator to locate a nest full on young, helpless birds.  If the eggs were simply dropped out the entrance hole, a predator would have a much easier time finding a nearby nest. In the case of the bluebird, parents sometimes eat the shells.  Nobody knows why they do this.  It is thought that perhaps it is done to obtain the calcium found in the shells.

DOWNY WOODPECKER VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

If you feed hummingbirds sugar water, you know that hummingbird feeders attract a variety of other critters. 

       Right now my wife, Donna, and I are chagrined because house finches seem to be eating more than their share of the nectar contained in a feeder hanging in our backyard.  To add insult to injury, the voracious finches also chase away any hummingbirds that fly in for a quick meal.

       This past winter a Baltimore oriole fed daily at a feeder hanging in our backyard.  Although we tried to coax it to eat grape jelly, this finicky bird showed nothing but distain for this often-reliable oriole food.

       From time to time, we have see butterflies at our feeders.  Most often these infrequent visitors are red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs.

       Gray squirrels also raid our feeders from time to time.  As you might expect when they try to rob a feeder they end up with more sticky nectar on their bodies than in the mouth. 

       Once while we were a church,  a squirrel visited a backyard hummingbird feeder and chewed up a portion of the artificial flower surrounding the feeding portal.

       Folks that live in North Georgia sometimes have black bears try to drink from their hummingbird feeders.  When this happens, often the hungry behemoths leave behind a damaged feeder.

       The other day Ron Lee told me that for the past several days he and his wife had been enjoying watching a downy woodpecker regularly visit their hummingbird feeder.  When I told Ron that I had never seen a downy at a hummingbird feeder he promptly sent me a picture to document this apparently rare occurrence.

       If woodpeckers have ever visited your hummingbird feeders, I would love to hear from you.  In the meantime, I will keep my eyes on my feeders.  Perhaps I will lucky enough to see a downy woodpecker fly in for a meal.  If one does show up, I hope it does not try to chase the hummingbirds away.

CAROLINA CHICKADEES ARE HARD-WORKING PARENTS

             Anyone that feeds birds in the Peach State is familiar with the Carolina chickadee.  This feathered sprite is a regular visitor to our backyard feeders where it invariably selects a single sunflower seed on each of its countless visits throughout the day.

            The bird’s fondness for these oil-rich seeds will lead you to believe is its main source of food.  In truth, the Carolina chickadee’s diet varies from season to season.  It seems that berries, fruits, and seeds do make up the bulk of its diet during the winter.  However, during the warmer months insects and spiders make up a large portion of its diet.  Among all of the various invertebrates consumed by this chickadee, caterpillars often make up the bulk of animal portion of its diet.

CAROLINA CHICKADEE CARRYING A CATERPILLAR TO ITS HUNGRY YOUNG

            The importance of caterpillars to Carolina chickadees is dramatically illustrated by research conducted on their nesting habits.  According to the National Audubon Society, one study found that a pair of chickadees feeding a brood of four to six young fed the rapidly growing youngsters in excess of 9,000 caterpillars before they left their nest.  Can you imagine what it takes for a pair of chickadees to find and feed 9,000 caterpillars to their young in the 14-16 days they are in the nest?

            I guess that helps explain why we do not see Carolina chickadees around our feeders as often while they are nesting.

A BIRDBATH CAN BE A HUB OF ACTIVITY

       Although the birds in my yard visit my birdbaths on a regular basis throughout the entire year, activity around these artificial ponds has definitely increased as of late.  For example, in a little over an hour one afternoon this week I watched, a northern mockingbird, common grackles, American robins, brown thrashers, and orchard orioles visited the birdbath outside my home office.

       While a couple of the birds that showed up drank, most were intent solely on bathing.  If you have never seen wild birds bathe, you have missed a real treat. 

       Each bird would hop into the deepest water (only about two inches deep) and began rapidly flapping its wings.  I suspect they also shook their bodies, but I cannot say for sure that was the case.  What I do know is that while bathing, each bird had water flying everywhere.  They would then suddenly stop, look around and repeat the process several times.  Finally, when they finished they laboriously flew to nearby trees and shrubs on water-soaked wings to shake off the water and preen.

  Interestingly, all but one of the visitors bathed alone.  However, at other times I have seen more than one bird bathe at the same time.

       When the last bather left, the birdbath was almost empty and the ground within a three to four foot circle around the bath was soaking wet.

       Their departure left me with the task of refilling the birdbath, and fond memories of what I had witnessed.

A POISONOUS SNAKE IN MY BACKYARD?

At this time of the year, we Georgians are spending a lot of time in our yards.  As such, homeowners and their families are more likely to encounter a snake now than at any other time of the year.  Whenever somebody does run across a snake, the first question that often comes to mind is, “Is this reptile poisonous?

       According to John Jensen, senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section and one of the state’s leading authorities on snakes, “Only every once in a while is it a venomous snake.”

       It seems that only six of the 46 species of Georgia’s of native snakes are poisonous.  The vast majority of the Peach State’s snakes are not a threat to humans.  However, far too often, harmless snakes are needlessly persecuted.  This is unfortunate because snakes are valued members of the wildlife communities that live in our yards.

       One way that you can alleviate your fears that you have encountered a poisonous snake is to learn how to identify them.  Since you only have to learn to identify six snakes, this is an easy task. 

       The Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section has prepared two publications that make identifying Georgia’s poisonous snakes a snap.  These full color pamphlets are entitled, “Venomous Snakes of Georgia” and “Is it a Water Moccasin?”.  Both publications can be downloaded by visiting the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section website at www.georgiawildlife.org/georgiasnakes.

 

10 BACKYARD TREES THAT ARE BUTTERFLY HOST PLANTS

       Interest in butterfly gardening is at an all time high throughout the Peach State.  At one time, his activity was one-dimensional. If a homeowner wanted to attract butterflies to their yard, they planted flowers that produced an abundance of nectar. However, in recent years butterfly gardening has taken on a new dimension. Nowadays people that are serious butterfly gardeners also incorporate butterfly larval host plants into their landscape designs.

       However, many homeowners do not realize that some of the trees growing in their yards are also butterfly host plants.  Here is a list of ten such trees and the butterflies that use them as hosts.

Eastern Red Cedar   Juniper Hairstreak

Yellow Poplar  – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Hackberry – Hackberry Emperor, Tawny Emperor, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, American Snout

Sassafras  – Spicebush Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Palamedes Swallowtail

Redbud – Henry’s Elfin

Flowering Dogwood – Spring Azure

Willow – Viceroy

Winged Elm –  Question Mark

Water Oak – White M Hairstreak

Black Cherry – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple

 

THE MOCKINGBIRD YOU THINK YOU HEAR SINGING IN YOUR BACKYARD MAY BE A BROWN THRASHER

Both brown thrashers and northern mockingbirds inhabit backyards across the state.  However, while both are excellent songsters, the songs uttered by the brown thrasher are often attributed to the northern mockingbird. One reason for this is the voices of both birds sound quite similar.  However, whereas mockingbirds seem to sing more often from an open perch, brown thrashers seem to have a tendency to sing more frequently from the sanctuary provided by thick shrubs and other dense vegetation.

As a result, whenever you hear a beautiful mockingbird-like song sung by a bird that you cannot see it is human nature to assume it is being performed by a mockingbird.  In truth, that may not be the case.   Once you learn how to separate the songs sung by both birds, you will never confuse them again.  The brown thrasher repeats the phrases in its songs twice.  In comparison, the northern mockingbird repeats the verses in its songs three or more times.  Once you can identify the songs of both birds, chances are you will discover that both of this accomplished vocalists have long been serenading you.  If that is the case, I think it is only fitting that both birds are given equal credit for helping make your backyard such a special place.