BLOGGER OBSERVES WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH CACHING FOOD

In a recent blog, I noted that one of the great joys of backyard wildlife watching is sharing your observations with others. This prompted Debbie Menard to report one of her most interesting recent wildlife sightings. I found her report so interesting I thought I would share it with you.

       Debbie is one of the few folks I know that offers safflower seeds on her menu of food offerings at her backyard bird cafe. Since gray squirrels do not relish the oily seed, it is sometimes used as an alternative to sunflower seeds. For some reason, gray squirrels seem to shy away from this odd seed.

       In fact, it is a seed that only a handful of backyard birds will routinely eat. The seed appears to be eaten most often by the northern cardinal. The short list of other species that will eat safflower seeds includes the likes of downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, mourning dove, Carolina chickadee, blue jay, finch and the white-breasted nuthatch.

       One day this summer Debbie watched a white-breasted nuthatch pluck a safflower seed from a feeder and characteristically fly off with it in its bill. The bird landed on the trunk of a large white oak tree. Once there, the bird made a few modifications to the bark of the tree. Once the bird was satisfied with its handiwork, it wedged the seed in the cavity it had created and flew away.

       This was the first time Debbie have ever seen a white-breasted nuthatch engage in this fascinating behavior.

       What a great sighting!

       Keep your eyes peeled, a white-breasted nuthatch, or some other bird, may be caching seeds in your backyard right now.

SHARING NATURE SIGHTINGS WITH OTHERS

        I honestly believe that the enjoyment we all receive from watching wildlife is greatly enhanced by simply sharing our sightings with others.  This concept was recently reinforced when I gave a talk about hummingbirds to the Southern Wings Birding Club in Lawrenceville.

       After I made my presentation, the club’s president asked all present to share some of the fascinating sightings they had made since their last meeting.  He made sure everyone had a chance to contribute by asking each member, in turn, to contribute to the conversation. 

       A few people talked about the birds they had seen on recent trips to far off locations in quest of adding birds to their life lists.  As these folks described seeing such unusual species as red-necked phalaropes, I am sure I was not alone in hoping that one day I too would be able to make a similar trek.

       While such reports were thoroughly fascinating, what impressed me most was the fact that everyone was eager to tell stories about the birds they see on a daily basis in or nearby their own backyards. 

       The reports ranged from a woman seeing an American bittern perched on a utility line near a small marsh flooded by recent rains, to a man that told how raccoons had become so fond of the nectar in his hummingbird feeders; he had to take the feeders inside every night.  One member described how brown thrashers rummaged through the top of a tree he cut down in his backyard as he worked nearby.  Several people spoke about the fascinating behavior of the Carolina wrens that inhabit their yards.  A remarkably large number of hawks were the subjects of many reports.  I found it interesting to hear one-woman talk about feeding blue jays and how they come looking for her when they want to be fed.  Still others discussed seeing everything from blue-gray gnatcatchers to indigo buntings in their yards.

       As people shared their experiences, the room was full of laughter and fellowship.  It was obvious to me all of the members genuinely felt they were contributing to the discussion.  Even after the meeting had closed, people were still talking with one another about birds and other wildlife.

       It was also great to see more experienced birders interacting with beginners.  Everyone was learning from one another.  As such, they are gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world.  There is no doubt in my mind the quality of the life these people enjoy is enriched by the wildlife they see on a daily basis.

       If there is a bird or nature club in your neck of the woods, attend one of its meetings.  If a club is not located nearby, consider starting one.  Either way, if you do, you will be better for it.

 

MOWING LESS OFTEN CAN HELP NATIVE BEES

        Increasing numbers of Georgia homeowners are striving to give our native bees a helping hand.  Some of the most popular things they are doing to help these valuable insects include providing them with nesting habitat, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides, and planting native plants that produce both pollen and nectar.  If you are looking for another way to promote the native bee population in your yard and neighborhood, simply mow your yard less often.

       Ecologists working for the United Forest Service made this recommendation after monitoring bee activity during the summer in 16 yards located in Springfield, Massachusetts.  They compared the number of bees found in these yards and learned there was more bee activity in lawns mowed every two weeks than those mowed weekly. In addition, the greatest bee diversity was found in those lawns mowed every three weeks.

       The ecologists attributed their findings to the fact that yards mowed every three weeks hosted more plants that provide the bees with pollen and nectar.

       Amazingly, during the study the researchers identified 111 species of insects, including 25 percent of the bees known to occur in the Bay State.

       The Susannah Lerman, lead author in a paper based on the study recently published in the journal Biological Conservation, stated, “We can all contribute to improving bee habitat in our own backyards.”

       If you do not enjoy pushing or riding a lawnmower around your yard any more than I do and want help give the bees a boost, you might want to mow your yard less often.  

BACKYARD SECRET: IN GEORGIA, MOURNING DOVES NEST THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

       Remarkably, mourning dove nesting can take place in the Peach State throughout the entire year.  The nesting season usually kicks off in south Georgia in February.  Nesting is at its peak throughout the state from mid-May to July and normally winds down in mid-October.

       On the average, a female mourning dove will nest three times during this long nesting season.

GOLDFINCHES RAVAGE ZINNIA BLOSSOMS

      Recently I posted a blog describing the multitude of butterflies, hummingbirds and other nectar feeders using the plants blooming in eight containers sitting on the deck of my Monroe County home.  When I posted that blog, I wondered if this backyard scene could be any more beautiful or intriguing.  This week the arrival of a single bird clearly demonstrated it indeed could.

       Last week my wife noticed petals were littering the floor around the pots containing zinnias.  At first, we thought this was simply a sign the flowers were beginning to fade.  The next day, however, she spotted a male American goldfinch plucking seeds and petals from the zinnias’ blossoms.

       The bird returns to ravage the zinnia blossoms several times a day.  Each time he departs, he leaves a new crop of colorful petals strewn like confetti about the floor of the deck.  By now, he has dismantled so many blossoms; the zinnia plants are not nearly as beautiful as they were a week ago.  We know the plants will regain their beauty once a new crop of buds opens up.  In the meantime, we are convinced the premature demise of the flowers is a small price to pay for the daily shows put on by this handsome, hungry backyard resident. 

       Since we first noticed an American goldfinch feeding on the zinnias growing on our deck, I have also seen them dining on zinnia seeds in the long narrow butterfly garden near my office.  Goldfinches are also eating dried black-eyed-susan seeds in a small garden located along our driveway.

       It is interesting to note that all the while goldfinches have been dining at flower seed heads, few of the birds have visited two feeders stocked with sunflower seeds.

       In recent weeks, others have told me they have noticed goldfinches eating zinnia and coneflower seeds in their yards.  I would not be surprised if this is happening in your backyard too.

BACKYARD SECRET: CHANGING WEATHER PATTERNS MAY HAVE A DELETERIOUS IMPACT ON MIGRATORY BIRDS

       According to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology ecologist Frank La Sorte, changes in precipitation and temperature that occur around August, a time when many migratory birds are preparing for their fall migration.  This is the time when the birds are gorging themselves on variety of fruits, berries and other foods.  This feeding frenzy enables them to store the fuel required to successfully to wing their way to their winter homes.

       Utilizing population estimates of 77 species of migratory birds and climate models, La Sorte found that weather changes could have a negative impact on the availability of many of the foods the birds heavily rely on to prepare for the arduous migration.  Birds that attempt to migrate without adequate fat reserves reduce their chances of surviving the marathon trip.  

HOW TO CARE FOR STUNNED HUMMINGBIRDS

         Hummingbirds are taking center stage in backyards across the state.  More than likely you are seeing more hummingbirds swirling around your feeders right now than at any other time this year.  While this is impressive, we all know that the numbers of birds visiting our feeder will increase before they finally depart for their winter quarters.

       Whenever lots of hummingbirds are scuffling with one another to feed at your feeders, the chance of the birds striking a window dramatically increases.  Here are a few tips that will help you deal with a bird that flies into a window 

       If the hapless bird lands in a spot where it will not become covered with ants, is in the shade, or will not be grabbed by a cat or other predator, leave it alone.  If it is note severely injured it will eventually fly away.

       On the other hand, if you feel the bird needs to be moved to a safe location, gently pick it up, and place it in a paper bag or shoebox.  If you place it in a bag, loosely fold over the top of the bag.  This will permit air to circulate into the bag and keep the bird from prematurely flying out of the bag once it recovers.

       If you place the hummingbird in a shoebox, poke several air holes in box.

       Place the bag in a dark, quiet location and wait.  If the bird is only stunned, in about an hour or two, check on its condition.  Once it revives and seems alert, take it outside, place it on the palm of your hand, and let it fly away.  Do not be surprised if the bird does not immediately take to the air.  I have seen hummers wait a few minutes before finally taking flight.

       On the other hand, if the bird seems alert but has injured a wing or its bill, contact a wildlife rehabilitator.                                    

       When a hummingbird doesn’t show any signs of life, it is probably dead.