THE DAWN CHORUS IS A MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA

       One of Mother Nature’s most exquisite concerts is the dawn chorus.  This event takes place across the state each day throughout the spring.  In spite of the fact it can be heard in rural areas, suburban neighborhoods and cities alike, it remains largely unappreciated.

       This is due in large part to the fact it is staged when many of us are still in bed.  The event can begin as early as 4:00 a.m. and is largely over by the time the sun peeks above the horizon.

       During this magical time of day, the air is awash with bird songs.  In fact, in many locations, so many birds will be calling it is difficult to tell one songster from another.    

       The music is created almost exclusively by the males of scores of songbirds including the likes of American robins, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, vireos, wrens, bluebirds, wood pewees, wood thrushes and many more. 

       While their songs vary widely, they are all singing for the same purpose.  They are putting all other males of their species on notice that they have set up a breeding territory in that locale and they had better not even think about entering their realm and try to steal their mates. 

       Females, on the other hand, are intently listening to the males’ songs.  It seems they are attracted to the males displaying the finest, loudest, and most energetic vocalizations.

       If you have the desire to be in the audience for a dawn chorus, you have to forgo some sleep and be sitting in a lawn chair in your backyard well before daylight.  If you get up early enough, you will hear the open volley of sound made by just a few birds.  However, as dawn approaches more and more birds will begin calling. Once this loud crescendo of sound reaches its peak, the symphony will begin to fade.  By dawn, you will hear nothing more than a smidgeon of the birds you heard an hour or so before.

       Of course, the numbers of birds contributing to the dawn chorus will vary widely from place to place.  For example, if you reside in a rural area, chances are you will hear more birds than you will in a subdivision.  However, regardless of where you live you will hear more birds than you probably ever imagined live close by.

       This fact was borne out recently on a visit to my daughter’s home. She lives in a large subdivision near Augusta.  During the day, I   typically hear a half a dozen or so birds calling around her home.  However, recently one morning I got up around 5:00 a.m. and stood on her front porch for a few minutes.  As soon as the front door closed behind me, I was immediately amazed by how many birds I was hearing.  One of the principal species singing was the American robin.  Robins seemed to be calling from everywhere.  There seemed to be dozens of robins within earshot.  However, by the time the school bus was pulling into the neighborhood, things had returned to normal and the songsters were engaged in their normal daily routines.

       Here are a couple of things to listen for if you are in the audience for more than one spring chorus.

        The participants in the spring chorus will change throughout the spring.  Early on, the songsters will be resident birds.  As spring moves toward summer, they will be joined by Neotropical migrants. 

       In addition, if you find your seat well before the concert begins, you will note different species will pipe in earlier than other species.

       Believe me; all it takes is being in the audience for one dawn chorus to realize it is truly a musical extravaganza.

      

      

      

BACKYARD SECRET: Native Americans Were The First To Discover Purple Martins Would Nest in Gourds

        When the first European settlers arrived in what is now the Southeastern United States they found gourds (sometimes called calabashes) erected nearby many Native American villages.  The gourds were hung near the encampments in an attempt to attract nesting purple martins.  They knew nesting martins would vigorously defend their nest sites from any bird perceived to be a threat to their eggs or young.  By so doing, the large swallows would inadvertently help keep crows, vultures, and hawks from stealing drying meat and hides hung near the gourds used as nest sites.

       The new settlers were quick to adopt this practice and erected gourds and later manmade martin houses around their own homes. 

       The famous naturalist and painter John James Audubon noted in his journals that he could always tell the fineness of an inn’s accommodations by the quality of the martin housing provided by the tavern’s proprietor.

BACKYARD NECTAR ROBBERS

A little more than a week ago while I was admiring the showy pink blossoms blanketing the large George Tabor azalea bushes encircling a chestnut tree in my yard, I noticed scores of large carpenter bees visiting flower after flower.  When I moved closer to floral show I realized that after the carpenter bees landed on the blooms, they immediately made the way down the outside of the blossoms to the junction of the petals and green sepals.  As it turned out, the hefty bees were robbing nectar from the large trumpet-shaped flowers.

       It seems carpenter bees are too large to fit through the throats of the bright pink blooms to reach the nectar located at the base of the blossoms.  Faced with this problem, most other nectar feeders would abandon their quest for the nectar. 

       Such is not the case with these carpenter bees.  These bees have the uncanny ability to obtain the nectar from the outside of a blossom.  What I was observing was the bees chewing longitudinal holes at the base of each bloom and then dipping their tongues into the flowers’ sugary nectar.

       Since I first noticed what was taking place I have closely examined a number of azalea blossoms and found any number of feeding portals created by the carpenter bees.  In addition, my wife saw a wasp using a feeding hole after the carpenter bee that created it left.

       Insects such as the carpenter bee are called nectar robbers simply because they feed on nectar without pollinating the flowers.

       If you would like to witness this odd behavior, on a warm, sunny day, look for carpenter bees flying about your azaleas.  When you spot them, watch where they go.  After they leave, look for the feeding holes created by the bees.

        I think you will agree you do not have to leave the confines of your yard to witness fascinating animal behavior.

BACKYARD SECRET: PINE SISKINS WILL EAT PEANUTS

   If you have been fortunate enough to host pine siskins at your feeders this past winter, the small, sparrow-like birds probably fed on thistle (Niger) or sunflower seeds.  Although I did not see a pine siskin at my feeders this year until today, it has been my experience when the birds do appear, they rarely feed on anything else.

        However, after feeding birds for decades I have also  learned that birds will surprise you.  For some unknown reason, they will suddenly eat something you never expected they would touch. 

        This lesson was reinforced today.  Throughout the winter, I have watched tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, northern mockingbirds, and even American goldfinches regularly chisel out bits of peanuts from the feeder. 

        For some reason, today a pine siskin joined a female American goldfinch pecking away on peanuts.  What made the bird’s choice even more unusual was the fact the bird did not visit one of the two nearby feeders stocked with black oil sunflower seeds.

        Perhaps the bird tried the peanuts and did not like them and I will never see it again..  Who knows? One thing I do know is, if a siskin shows up at my peanut feeder again, I will be ready to photograph the event.

BACKYARD SECRET: DOGWOOD BLOSSOMS ARE NOT WHITE

To generations of Georgians, and all of the other folks that consider the blossom of flowering dogwood to be a symbol of spring, it might come as a surprise to learn that an argument can be made the flowers of this iconic tree are not actually white.

       The experts base this claim on the fact that the creamy, white petals that are the focal point of one of Nature’s most beautiful floral creations are not petals at all.  These petal-like structures are technically bracts.  The tree’s small flowers form the greenish-yellow button-like structure located at the center of the bracts.

       Although, I know plant experts are correct in making a distinction between bracts and petals, I am also certain the most people will continue to believe flowering dogwood flowers are white and not yellow.

 

10 TOP NATIVE HUMMINGBIRD NECTAR PLANTS

When most gardeners think about adding plants that provide nectar to hummingbirds to their gardens, often native plants are overlooked.

There are many reasons why natives are desirable additions to any garden.  These special plants help restore the diversity of native plants to the areas where they are planted. This is extremely important to the untold numbers of animals that depend on native plants for their survival. They are also as attractive as ornamentals, are often drought tolerant, more resistant to insect pests, and require little, if any pruning.

I hope you will add some of the 10 of the plants listed below to your garden.  Believe me, if you do, you will soon be wondering why you did not do so years ago.    

Bee Balm (Oswego Tea) (Monarda didyma) – Type of Plant – perennial; Height – 1 to 5 feet;  Blooms – June to September; Soil – moist to well drained;  Light – full sun to partial shade.

 

Buckeye, Red (Aesculus pavia) – Type of Plant – shrub or small tree; Height – 20+ feet;  Blooms – March to May;  Soil – well drained, moist soil types are best;  Light – partial shade to full sun.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) – Type of Plant– short-lived perennial; Height – 1-8 feet; Blooms – midsummer; Soil – well-drained, moist to dry soil types;  Light – full sun to partial shade.

Columbine, Eastern (Aquilegia canadensis) – Type of Plant – short-lived perennial;  Height – 1-3 feet; Blooms – late winter to early spring; Soil – well drained, moist; Light – partial shade to partial sun.

Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) – Type of Plant  – Perennial vine;  Length – 16 feet; Blooms – mainly March – September, will bloom throughout most of the year in some locales;  Soil – moist to dry soils; Light – full sun to light shade.

Horsemint (Monarda fistulosa) – Type of Plant  – perennial;  Height – 1 to 5 feet;  Blooms – June to September;  Soil – dry to well drained;  Light – partial shade to full sun.

Jewelweed  (Touch-Me-Not) (Impatiens capensis) – Type of Plant – Annual herb;  Height – 2 to 5 feet;  Blooms – May to October;  Soil – well drained, moist;  Light – shade to partial sun.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) – Type of Plant -shrub to small tree;  Height –  up to 35 feet;  Blooms – late winter to early spring;  Soil – dry to well drained;  Light – partial shade to full sun.

Sage, Scarlet (Salvia coccinea)  – Type of Plant – Annual; Height – 2 to 3 feet;  Blooms – from late spring throughout the summer; Soil – dry to moist well drained; Light – full sun.

Trumpet Creeper (Hummingbird Vine) (Campsis radicans) – Type of Plant – woody vine;  Length – 36 or more feet; Blooms – summer;  Soil – moist to dry; Light – light shade to full sun.

Help Hummingbirds and Other Native Wildlife

If you are interested in helping hummingbirds, butterflies and other Georgia wildlife, earn certification in the Community Wildlife Project’s Hummingbird Haven and Gardening with Georgia Native Plants initiatives.  For more information contact:  Melissa Hayes at 478-994-1438 or melissa.hayes@dnr.ga.gov

HUMMINGBIRDS ARE ARRIVING DAILY

March is the month when ruby-throated hummingbirds begin appearing at backyard feeders across the Peach State.

Although most of folks have yet to see their first hummingbird of the year, there is no question the birds have already arrived.  The earliest report that I received came in from a couple that lives in Butler. Their first bird showed up March 16, drank on three different occasions, and then disappeared.

Over the years, rubythroats have commonly arrive at my Forsyth home March 18.  Full of anticipation of the arrival of my first bird of the year, I frequently checked my feeders throughout that special day.  Alas, my efforts were in vain.  Although, a hummer didn’t find its way to my Monroe County home on the 18th, one did show up at a couple’s home on the other side of the county.

In addition, a rubythroat made an appearance at the home of a couple in Bluffton on the 18th.  This bird seemingly vanished the same day.  However, on the 20th, their feeder was visited by three ruby-throated hummingbirds.

As I was writing this blog today (March 21), I looked out my office window and, low and behold, I saw a male ruby-throated hummingbird drinking nectar at a feeder hung nearby.  To say the least, seeing this long-awaited bird made my day.

When ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive in early spring, in spite of the fact many flowers are blooming, nectar is hard to find.  This is because, for the most part, early spring flowers produce meager amounts of nectar.  Consequently, hummingbird feeders can be an important source of food for these early migrants.  Our feeders enable these travel-weary, hungry birds with an easily obtainable source of food.  In just a few minutes, they can eat more food than they can visiting scores of flowers in a much longer period.

However, each year some of the hummingbirds’ biggest fans do not have feeders hanging in their yards when the first hummingbirds arrive. The first hummingbird they often see is one hovering in the spot where a hummingbird hung last year.  As a result, they guiltily scramble around preparing food for these tiny dynamos.

With that in mind, if you have procrastinated and not put out a feeder yet, do so as soon as possible.  I am sure you do not want to disappoint the birds that bring you so much enjoyment throughout the spring and summer.

When you do spot your first hummer of the season, let me know when and where you see both your first male and female ruby-throated hummingbirds of the year.