MEET THE RED ADMIRAL

        The red admiral is one of our most recognizable butterflies.  This is because this dark, medium-sized (1.75-2.50″) butterfly displays striking reddish orange bands across the tops of its wings.

        The red admiral flies rapidly from spot to spot.  It often lands on the ground, the sides of our homes, large flowers, you name it.  There it will often flatten out its wings and bask in the sunlight.

        Whenever it lands on a flower, do not assume it is nectaring.  The red admiral is a butterfly that only occasionally seeks nectar from blossoms.  Instead is prefers to dine on the sugar found in plant sap.  In fact, the largest concentration of red admirals I have ever seen was feeding on a gaping wound on the trunk of a willow tree.  Sap was oozing from the spot where a large limb broke off the tree the night before during an intense thunderstorm.         

        The butterfly will also dine on the juices oozing from rotting fruit.  I have also encountered red admirals seeking nourishment from dry dog food.  In addition, to the chagrin of many, it will also visit piles of dung. 

        The list of red admiral host plants includes pellitory, nettles, and false nettle.

        Since red admirals are now flying about backyards throughout Middle Georgia, I am sure they can now be seen in other parts of the state too.  If you have not seen one yet, you have plenty of time to make the acquaintance of this butterfly this year.  This strong flyer can be seen in Georgia from March through early November.

        I must admit I do not see as many red admirals as I would like, however, whenever I do spot one it is a special treat.  If you encounter your first red admiral this year, I am sure you will understand why I am so fond of this butterfly.

BACKYARD SECRET – LITTLE-KNOWN NEST PREDATORS

        Now that the nesting season is in full swing, the birds nesting in our backyards face formidable odds trying to fledge their young. As we all know, many nesting attempts end in failure due the fact predators eat both eggs and young.
       A list of the better-known nest predators includes crows, blue jays, raccoons, rat snakes, and opossums. However, there are a number of other animals that also eat eggs and/or nestlings. For example, would you believe deer mice, flying squirrels, and eastern chipmunks also raid bird nests?
      I find it amazing that cardinals, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and other backyard nesters are able to raise as many young as they do.

DO BACKYARD BIRDS PRACTICE MONOGAMY?

        Up until a few decades ago, biologists believed that as many as 93 percent of songbird families practiced monogamy.  However, since the development of DNA fingerprinting in the 1980s, we now know some birds that appear to be devoted mates will stray.

        This earth-shattering realization came about quickly.  For example, by 2002, researchers discovered that up until that time a meager 14 percent of the songbirds tested were truly monogamous.  Research has shown 19 percent of the nests of supposed monogamous birds are home to at least one nestling that was sired by a father different from the rest of its nest mates.

        A few of the backyard birds that are promiscuous are the eastern bluebird, ruby-throated hummingbird, house finch, and red-winged blackbird.

        It would appear that some of our backyard feathered neighbors live soap opera lives.

PROVIDING NESTING MATERIAL FOR HUMMERS

       Have you ever given any thought of trying to provide nesting hummingbirds with a source of nesting material?  I must admit while I have placed pieces of cotton in a wire suet feeder in the spring hoping it might be used by nesting birds, I never considered the possibility the white fibers might be used by a ruby-throated hummingbird.  However, three events have caused me to change my mind.

        Several years ago, I presented a hummingbird program to a garden club in southwest Georgia that met in the home of one of its members.  While I was setting up my projector and screen, the host asked me if I ever heard of a hummingbird using cotton to build a nest.  I told her although I had not, I could see how hummingbirds might incorporate cotton in a nest. 

        She then went on the explain that she had seen a female hummer collect cotton in her backyard.  It seems she planted a cotton seed in a pot that sat near her house.  The seed germinated and grew into a healthy plant festooned with balls of cotton.  Since the plant looked attractive, she left it in pot throughout the winter.

        The following spring while she was standing in her living room, looking out across her patio a female hummingbird flew down, plucked some cotton fibers from a cotton ball, and flew up to a nearby tree.  The bird repeated this behavior several times.  Although she never actually saw the bird using the cotton to build a nest, she surmised that is what the little bird was doing.

        I was reminded of this homeowner’s experience last week when I received an email from a man relating that he had witnessed a female hummingbird collect a bit of cotton from a suet feeder filled with cotton batting.  This prompted him to search for a nest.  Remarkably, his efforts paid off and he discovered a hummingbird nest close by.

        Earlier this week I mentioned this event to a cousin.  He was so intrigued by the story he went out and bought a wire suet feeder, filled it with cotton, and hung it out near his home.  Unbelievably before the sun set he spotted a female hummer pulling strands of cotton from the  feeder.  Now he is looking for a nest.

        With this kind of success, perhaps this is something we should all try.  Even though a hummingbird might not avail itself of the cotton we offer, chances are other nesting birds will.  

SPOTTED HORSEMINT–GREAT FOR BUTTERFLIES AND HUMMINGBIRDS

        Since you are a wildlife enthusiast, at this time of the year you are probably spending a lot of time gardening for wildlife.  With that in mind, I would like to suggest that you consider adding spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) to your home landscape.  In addition, to producing a bevy of gorgeous purple-spotted blossoms that are accompanied by creamy to pink bracts framing each cluster of blossoms, this native perennial is also a butterfly and hummingbird favorite.

        The spotted horsemint (also known as spotted beebalm) grows up to three feet tall.  It prefers sand, and well-drained soil types although it will set its roots in other soils too.  Plants seem to do best when planted in full sun.  In addition, spotted horsemint can withstand dry conditions.

        This plant produces a multitude of stems and spreads via rhizomes.  As such, I find it is best to plant it in spots where it will not compete with other plants.

        I should also mention this native wildflower is resistant to deer browsing.  This is a real bonus as many homeowners are faced with the problem of hungry whitetails devouring their favorite flowering plants and shrubs.

        Planting spotted horsemint in your garden is an excellent way to enhance the wild plant diversity in your backyard.

THE BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD LAYS IT EGGS IN THE NESTS OF OTHERS

        One of the most abundant birds visiting my feeders right now is the brown-headed cowbird.  I find it remarkable this bird is so common since it does not build a nest or raise its own young; these tasks are left to others.  Indeed, it is the epitome of a nest parasite.

        Biologists tell us the brown-headed cowbird has been documented laying its eggs in the nests of more than 220 species of birds.  This includes the likes of the northern cardinal, warblers, brown thrasher, eastern phoebe, sparrows, tanagers, gray catbird, northern mockingbird, and even hummingbirds.  In addition, 140+ species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds.

        During the nesting season, a female brown-headed cowbird lays an egg per day over a period spanning forty days.  Rarely does she lay more than one egg in a nest.

The photo depicts a female (the drab bird) and male brown-headed cowbird.

        One the average only three percent of the young cowbirds will successfully fledge.  While this may not sound like many, at this rate a cowbird population can double itself every eight years.

        If the number of cowbirds currently visiting my feeders is any indication of the numbers of cowbirds that have successfully fledged during the past few years, the brown-headed cowbird population is definitely on the rise in my corner of the world.

DRAGONFLIES ARE SHOWING UP IN BACKYARDS

        Dragonflies are beginning to make their appearance in our backyards.  These aerial predators are on the prowl looking for mosquitoes and other small insects.

        The first species to show up in my backyard this spring was the common whitetail (Plathemis lydia).  The male of the species (depicted here) is not difficult to identify.  Its body varies from white to pale blue.  This dragonfly’s eyes are brown.  The insect’s clear wings are marked with wide bands about halfway between the tips of its wings and body.  The leading edge of this bands display slender streaks that project toward the tip of the wings.  The insect measures roughly 1.5 – 1.9 inches in length. 

        The bodies of immatures and females are brown and marked with white lateral stripes.  The wings of immature males resemble those of adult males.  In comparison, one of the main differences between the pattern of the female’s wings and those of the adult male is they are tipped in brown and black.  Since immatures and females are sometimes tricky to separate from other similar species, it is always best to consult a field guide when trying to identify them.

        It is possible to see common whitetails in yards across the state, however, chances are best if you live near water.

        Here in the Peach State common whitetails fly from March into early November.