Archive | April 2016

Feeding Blue Birds


QUESTION: My wife and I have been watching a pair of bluebirds feeding their young in one of our nest boxes for nearly three weeks.  We have become concerned that perhaps one or more of the babies cannot get out, as it seems well past the time the young birds should have fledged.  What should we do?

ANSWER:   If I were you, I would not be concerned over the fate of the young bluebirds housed in your nesting box. I would just sit back and enjoy watching the adults bringing food to their rapidly growing brood.

Typically bluebirds will fledged when they are anywhere from 17 to 20 days old.  When they finally begin vacating the box, it can take two or more hours for all of the youngsters to leave.  However, it is not uncommon for one or two members of the brood to make their first flight the following day.



If you would like to learn how to better identify birds, but simply didn’t know where to begin, this is the workshop for you.

The workshop will focus on how you can identify the birds that you are likely to see in and around your home.

Topics covered in the workshop will include:

  • Tips on identifying birds by sight and sound
  • Choosing the right binoculars and spotting scopes
  • Selecting the best field guides and other birding aids
  • Where to find help indentifying birds
  • Sharing your sightings with others
  • Much, much more




You do not need a large area to plant native plants that attract butterflies and other insect pollinators.   In fact, you can grow beautiful pollen and nectar-bearing plants in something as small as a container garden.

Here is a list of 10 native plants that can be planted in containers.  These flowering plants can enhance the beauty of your yard while providing butterflies with a source of nectar, as well as pollen and nectar for honey and native bees.



Wild Bergamot (Beebalm) – Monarda fistula – This summer-blooming perennials grow 2-4′ tall.

Spotted Beebalm Monarda punctata – This perennial grows 2-3′ tall and blooms during the middle of the summer.

Blazing Star (Dense Blazing Star) Liatris spicata – This perennial grows up to 3′ tall and blooms in summer.

Native Phlox (Garden Phlox) Phlox paniculata – This plant blooms from summer – fall.  This perennial reaches a height of 2-3′.

Stokes Aster (Cornflower) Stokesia laevis – This perennial grows from 8-12″ tall and blooms in the summer.

Eastern Silver Aster – Symphyotrichum concolor – This late summer blooming perennial reaches a height ranging from 2-3′ tall.

Black-eyed Susan Rudeckia hirta – This flowering plant is a biannual. It will grow 1-3′ feet tall and bloom in the summer.

Coneflower (Echinacea sp.) There are a number of native coneflowers to choose from.  Most of these perennials grow 3-4′ tall  and bloom during the summer.

Blue Mistflower (Hardy Ageratum) – Conclinium coelestrium – This summer-blooming perennial and typically grows 18-24″ tall.

Annual Blanketflower – Gallardia pulchella – This native is a summer-fall bloomer and typically grows 1-3′ tall.













The eastern towhee, sometimes called the joree, is a permanent resident through the Peach State. Here it can be found in backyards that feature patches of shrubs.

The eastern towhee spends most of its life on or within a few feet of the ground in its dense shrubby lair. Here it builds its nest and feeds.

When looking for food, the bird scratches through fallen leaves in search of hidden seeds and insects, spiders, sow bugs and even small snakes and lizards.

The towhee is more often heard than seen.  I know that you have probably heard it singing.  This eight-inch bird sounds like it is saying drink-your-teeee. This secretive bird also often calls to-hee or joree.

The female eastern towhee looks much like the male depicted here, with the exception that the in those places where the male’s plumage is black, it is brown instead.

The Eastern towhee will frequent bird baths and feeders. It prefer to feed on the ground.  It is particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds, however, it will also dine on millet, suet and white bread.


The downward spiral of many of our native bee populations is something that we should all be concerned about. The plight of these insects was recently highlighted by a study conducted by researchers with the University of Vermont’s Grand Institute of Ecological Economics. Their findings suggest that between 2008 and 2013 native bee populations declined 23 percent across the United States.

If you would like to learn more about native bees and what you can do in your backyard to promote native bee populations, I strongly urge you to read the April-May issue of the National Wildlife Federation’s magazine National Wildlife.  This special issue is titled Garden For Wildlife – NURTURING NATIVE BEES.




If you think you have done everything you need to do to attract wildlife to your yard and are still not seeing as much wildlife as you think you should, the culprit may be what and how pesticides (insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) you are spraying on you prized vegetables, lawn and ornamental plants.

The environmental Protection Agency estimates that we Americans douse our lawns with some 80 million pounds of pesticides annually. This amounts to 4.5 pounds of pesticides per person per year.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this is a rate 10 times higher than what farmers apply to the nation’s crops.

Most pesticides kill a wide variety of insects. As such, the pesticides sprayed on your roses to control pests can wipe out untold numbers of beneficial insects living nearby.

By the same token, pesticides often move far beyond the place where they are applied. For example, chemicals sprayed on a windy day can drift into your neighbor’s yard and beyond. Also, runoff after a spring or summer rain can carry a lethal load of chemicals that can eventually end up in the water table, stream or lake.

The thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of wildlife that inhabit your yard depend on insects sometime during their lifetime. Take birds, for example: it has been estimated that 90 percent of all nesting birds feed on insects. Therefore, if you kill or contaminate the insects that they feed upon, you affect them too.

Since frogs (all toads are also considered frogs) often feed under the cloak of darkness, these valued wildlife neighbors are often the forgotten ones.   In spite of the fact that nightly they devour scores of mosquitoes, beetles, and other insects that make life uncomfortable or dine on our prizes flowers and vegetables, many homeowners leave them off their list of valuable wildlife neighbors.

This is a grave injustice, as they are also great indicators of the health of our backyard environment. Since they gobble up a variety of insects, lots frogs hopping around your flower beds, is a sign that you are probably not overusing pesticides.  This is especially true if a lake, stream or wetland (their breeding habitat) is nearby.

The reason for this is that frogs are extremely sensitive to environmental contaminants. They can be killed when they come in contact with those deadly chemicals, by eating poisoned insects or by laying their eggs in contaminated water.

If you must use a pesticide, do a little research before you select which one to apply. Your local University of Georgia Cooperative Agent is a great source of such information. Some chemicals are more deadly to aquatic life, others are especially lethal to birds, or beneficial insects. If one is highly toxic to the animals that inhabit your yard, don’t buy it.

Most of us have been guilty of not following the manufacture’s recommended application rates. It is easy to believe that, if a little dose of chemical does some good, a big dose will do even better.  Actually the reverse is true.  The more we use further increases the chance of contaminating our yard with deadly chemicals that can endanger the health of our families and pets. Children are especially susceptible to pesticide poisoning.

Always keep pesticide use to a minimum. Often garden and yard pests can be controlled by simply plucking them from  plants.  If you do spray, spot treat whenever possible. If you have to spray, do so on a calm day. This will prevent poisons from drifting to areas when treatment in not needed.

Encourage natural predators to your yards. Ladybugs, robber flies, dragonflies, spiders, preying mantises, birds and a host of other kinds of wildlife can make a major dent in your backyard pest population.

Include native plants in your landscape. Many of these plants need little or no maintenance, less water and are more resistant to insects and diseases than a lot of our favorite ornamentals.

When trying to control unwanted vegetation, before you engage in chemical warfare, try chemical free methods of weed control. Some of these techniques include mulching, pulling, hoeing and digging.

Pesticide safety extends well beyond the application of these products. It is also imperative that they be properly stored and disposed.   Always store them in their original container far beyond the reach of children.  Keep the directions with the container.  By so doing, you will not have to rely on your memory when you next use them.

When it comes time to dispose of a pesticide or its container, don’t simply throw them in the trash. Contact your local waste disposal agent or local recycling facility for directions.

If you want to be a good citizen, enjoy a beautiful yard, and the benefits of a plentiful and diverse wildlife community, use pesticides wisely.



Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) blooms cascading down from tall trees are among our most beautiful spring flowers. However, this exotic import also has an ugly side.

Chinese wisteria was brought to North America in 1816.  It quickly became so popular throughout the south it was planted alongside porches, gardens, walls and arbors.

However, it quickly became apparent that this aggressive vine has a dark side. It seems that it just will not stay put. As such, its seeds and long sinewy vines enabled Chinese wisteria to quickly spread across the countryside to such an extent that today many believe that it is native plant.

When wisteria spreads it smothers out native plant communities and will even girdle trees as it makes it way to the tops of the tallest trees.

As a result, homeowners, and land managers have long been trying to eradicate Chinese wisteria.  Although it has been repelled and even eradicated in some locales, this is a war that will not end soon.

If you enjoy the sight and scent of wisteria blossoms in your yard don’t turn to Chinese  or its equally invasive close relative Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda); instead plant our native American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens).  This vine is not invasive and will display a bounty of gorgeous blossoms.



The chipping sparrow is a permanent resident throughout most of the state. Chipping sparrows also breed throughout much of the Peach State. The largest nesting populations are found north of the Fall Line.

The sparrow is most abundant during the winter due the fact that large numbers of them that live and breed north of Georgia during the spring and summer winter here.

Chipping sparrows commonly dine at backyard feeders, particularly those that are stocked with white millet and other small seeds. They will also feed on suet. They are especially fond of suet containing peanut butter.