LEAD CAN AFFECT MOCKINGBIRD AGGRESSION

          We Georgia homeowners are well aware of the fact the northern mockingbird is one of our most aggressive backyard birds.  In fact, if you are like me, it is hard to believe you would want them to be any more aggressive.  However, the results of a study published by Stephanie McClelland in the journal Science of the Total Environment suggest that the amount of lead found in the soil within a mockingbird’s territory can affect its aggressiveness.

    The study was conducted in neighborhoods scattered across New Orleans, Louisiana.  The data collected during the study found mockingbirds living in areas where high levels of lead are present in the soil are more aggressive than those inhabiting neighborhoods where soils are not contaminated with this pollutant.

         Now that I know lead can affect the level of aggressiveness displayed by mockingbirds, I cannot help but wonder if this element is affecting the mockingbirds living in my yard.  I hope that is not the case.

BACKYARD SECRET: ATTRACTING INDIGO BUNTINGS TO FEEDERS IN SPRING

         I do not know anybody that consistently attracts indigo buntings to their feeders.  The only times I have seen them feeding in my backyard has been in the spring.  In each case, the beautiful all blue birds fed on white millet seeds offered in open trays or scattered on the ground.

        With that in mind, if you want to try to attract this spectacular bird to your backyard for the first time, I suggest you begin making white millet available to any indigos passing through your area. 

        If you are successful, the first birds you see will be males.  Female indigo buntings migrate north a bit later.

OFTEN IT PAYS NOT TO MOVE

        Birds have a variety of ways to keep from being eaten by bird of prey.  For example, some birds escape into deep cover at the approach of a hawk. Others rely on the pattern and coloration of their plumage to blend in with the surrounding landscape.  There are even birds that use erratic and fast flight to stay out of harm’s way.  Another way in which birds escape the sharp eyes of an avian predator is to remain motionless.  Recently nature enthusiast Debbie Menard watched a downy woodpecker use this ploy to keep from being snatched up by a Cooper’s hawk.

        Debbie maintains a number of nectar and seed feeders close by her Monroe County residence.  This allows her to watch birds as she moves about inside her home.  Recently she noticed a downy woodpecker perched on a nearby peanut feeder.  She did not give this much thought, as downy woodpeckers are frequent visitors to the feeder.  However, several minutes later she was surprised to see the black and white bird had not moved.   When she looked about her yard it quickly became apparent, birds had mysterious vacated her feeding area.  Indeed something seemed to be amok.

        The first thing that came to mind was the Cooper’s hawk that regularly patrols her yard must be nearby.  When she heard the raucous, incessant calls of American crows and blue jays, it became obvious that the Cooper’s hawk or other predator must be nearby.

        When she checked the downy woodpecker again, she found it was still seemingly frozen to the feeder.  All told, the downy remained glued to the feeder for at least 15-20 minutes.

        Finally, when Debbie ventured out into her carport, she inadvertently flushed a Cooper’s hawk that apparently had been perched in an oak growing along the edge of her driveway.

        After the hawk departed, the downy woodpecker flew off and the regular diners at her backyard cafe returned and resumed their feeding.

        This behavior displayed by the downy woodpecker worked because many predators detect the presence of potential prey by detecting an animal’s slightest movement.  Although the woodpecker was in plain sight, the bird was essentially invisible to the Cooper’s hawk. However, if the bird had moved the slightest bit, its ruse would have been over and the woodpecker would have had to make a desperate dash to cover to avoid the sharp talons and bill of the formidable predator.

        If you would like to share an interesting backyard wildlife experience with other bloggers, please let me know.

HUMMERS ARE ARRIVING EARLY THIS YEAR

       In my last blog, I predicted that, in spite of our warm winter weather, ruby-throated hummingbirds would probably not arrive early this year.  Boy was I ever wrong.    Since the blog was posted, at least four hummers have been spotted in Monroe County.  The first bird arrived at a home near Juliette March 9.  Two birds were reported arriving three days later on March 12.  To top it all off, today (March 14) I spotted a male ruby-throated hummingbird visiting a feeder hanging in front of my office.  All four sightings are earlier than any I am personally aware of during the past 40+ years.  Personally, until today the earliest I have ever seen my first rubythroat of the year is March 18.

       Please let me know when you spot your first rubythroat.  I cannot believe folks in this Middle Georgia County are spotting   hummingbirds earlier than anybody else in the state.

HUMMINGBIRDS WILL PROBABLY ARRIVE ON TIME THIS SPRING

       Our unseasonably warm winter this year has raised expectations the ruby-throated hummingbird migration will be early this year.  As with most bold predictions, I suspect this one will prove to be wrong for the rubythroats that breed or pass through the Peach State.

        For years, the first report of the arrival of a ruby-throated hummingbird I received each year came from the Southwest Georgia city of Colquitt.  The recently departed Grace Moore would call to let me know she and her husband Hill just spotted a male rubythroat at their feeders. Based on their observations, the first birds would arrive in Colquitt around March 13.

       My wife and I usually see our first ruby-throated hummingbird at our Middle Georgia home in Monroe County around March 18, although other local hummingbird enthusiasts have spotted their first birds as early as March 17.

       In a typical year, the first rubythroats arrive in South Georgia around March 11.  Across much of Middle Georgia, the first hummer of the year appears during the third week in March.  Folks living in North Georgia rarely see their first ruby-throated hummingbird until April 1. 

       Each spring the males are the first to arrive.  They are followed 7-10 days later by the first wave of females.  However, I have noticed many homeowners throughout the state don’t see their first hummingbirds until April.  When they do see one, it is often a female.  This does not mean females arrived before the males.  It simply indicates both males and females were flying about their corner of the world when they spied their first birds.  This has happened to me a number of times.

       Often the first birds arrive before people have even hung up their feeders.  Countless times, I have homeowners have told me about looking out their window on cool March morning and spotting a hummer hovering at the spot where a feeder hung last year.  When this happens, it is hard not to feel like a heel.  This is especially true when you ponder the fact that a tiny, tired bird had traveled hundreds of miles from southern Mexico or Central America to reach your backyard only to find that it didn’t have an energy-rich meal waiting for it at a feeder where it fed the previous summer.

       If this has happened to you, I am sure you immediately scurried to the cabinet and pulled out a feeder, hurriedly filled it with nectar mixed a batch of nectar, and hung it outside your window.  Then you sat back a hoped that the bird would return.

       If you want to avoid going through this traumatic experience, I urge you to go ahead and hang out at least one of your hummingbird feeders as soon as possible.

       If you have never fed hummingbirds birds before, now is a good time to start.  Purchase a feeder that is easy to clean.  I also prefer feeders that have perches.  Feeders with perches encourage hummingbirds to linger longer and use less energy when feeding.

       Fill your feeder either with store-bought or homemade nectar.  If you want to make your own hummingbird food, simply mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.  Bring the water to a boil before adding the sugar.  Boil the mixture for 2-3 minutes.  Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into you feeder.  Store the remainder in the refrigerator.

       I don’t know about you, but I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of hummingbirds.  It is a sure sign that our wacky winter is about to end.  It also marks the beginning of the 2019 hummingbird season.  During this special time of year, we will be treated to the beauty and aerial acrobatics of what is arguably Georgia’s favorite bird.

       I hope ruby-throated hummingbirds will arrive early this year.  If they do, nobody will be more excited that me.

BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR CLUES THAT SQUIRRELS ARE EATING MUSHROOMS

        The gray squirrel is one of the most common animals found in backyards across Georgia.  Indeed, it has proven to be able to coexist with humans. 

        One reason they flourish in our backyards is linked to the fact they are omnivores.  In other words, they can eat both animals and plants.  In fact, studies have shown they can consume upwards of 60 species of plants alone.  We all know they will eat anything from tomatoes to various nuts, berries, buds and the like.  In addition, they will also eat mushrooms.

        Recently while walking about my backyard on an unseasonably balmy winter afternoon, I happened across evidence that a gray squirrel had recently been dining of a mushroom.  The mushroom had been knocked over and pieces of the fragile plant were strewn about.  When I looked closely at the pieces, I could actually see tooth marks left by the hungry squirrel.  Then next day I found, since the last time I visited the feeding site, a squirrel had eaten even more of the mushroom. Prudent homeowners would never try to eat a mushroom without being sure the mushroom was not poisonous.  Even then, you cannot be sure what you are eating.  I have a friend that fancied himself as being a mushroom expert.  One on fateful occasion, his misidentification of a mushroom landed him and his family in the hospital.

        Eating a poison mushroom is not a concern for the gray squirrel.  Remarkably, they seem to be able to eat any mushroom without risking becoming sick or killed.  In fact, researchers have found gray squirrels have the ability to eat mushrooms containing deadly amanita (deathcap) toxins with impunity.  The gray squirrel is one of only a handful of animals capable of this gastronomic fete.

        Who would have ever thought that the animal that eats our vegetables, destroys our bird nesting boxes, eats more than its fair share of seeds at our feeders, and even invades our attics is a uniquely special animal?  I know I didn’t.  

GREEN CLOVERWORM MOTHS ARE FLYING NOW

        I would like to introduce you to the green cloverworm moth (Hypena scabra).  It is one of your backyard moth neighbors that you might encounter anytime throughout the year.  This is especially if you live in South Georgia.  In some portions of North Georgia, you might see this month only from March through November.  I live in Middle Georgia, and I have seen it in all seasons.

        This drab, triangular-shaped, long-snouted moth measures around an inch (25mm-35mm) in length.

        Although it can be seen during daylight hours, you are most apt to it fluttering about your porch light.  In fact, during the winter it is sometimes the moth commonly seen around outside lights.

        The green cloverworm moth uses a variety of host plants including, strawberry, ragweed, and false indigo along with trees such as elm, hackberry, poplar, willow, and birch.