Archive | November 2016

GEORGIA’S SECOND HUMMINGBIRD SEASON

the-thanksgiving-hummingbird

Georgia has two hummingbird seasons. We are all familiar with the traditional hummingbird season. This season runs from middle of March through October. The second (also called the winter hummingbird season) extends from November to mid March.

The traditional hummingbird season is ruled by the ruby-throated hummingbird; it is the only hummingbird known to nest east of the Mississippi River. During this season, hummingbirds are more abundant than they are at any other time of the year.

The vast majority of these birds leave the state well before the end of October. However, a smattering of rubythroats winter in the Peach State.

During the second hummingbird season, the most common hummingbird seen in Georgia is the rufous. This hardy bird breeds from in the Pacific Northwest northward to southern Alaska. In spite of the fact that it primarily winters in Mexico, each year untold numbers winter in Georgia. It is estimated that as many as fifty to one hundred rufous hummingbirds annually winter here.

In addition to the rufous and an occasional ruby-throated hummingbird, nine other species of hummingbirds are confirmed winter visitors. This list of feathery sojourners includes the Allen’s, black-chinned, broad-billed, broad-tailed, calliope, Anna’s, magnificent, buff-belled, and green-breasted mango.

If you would like to try to attract one of these unusual hummingbirds to your yard, here are a few tips that you will find helpful.

  • Maintain at least feeder in your yard throughout the winter.
  • Do not fill the feeder up to the brim with sugar water.  Instead keep it only one-third to one-half full. Since winter temperatures are much cooler than they are during the spring and summer, you will not need to change the nectar as often as you do during the warmer months.
  • If the weather forecast calls for temperatures to plummet below 25˚F, bring your feeder inside. This will prevent the fluid from freezing and breaking the feeder. Once the temperature rises above freezing again, put it back outside.
  • Some fortunate individuals are successful in attracting a winter hummingbird on their first attempt. Others, like my wife and I, went years before a wintering hummingbird showed up in our yard. Since then we have hosted wintering hummingbirds several times.   The point I am trying to make is to not become discouraged, if at first you do not succeed.
  • Keep an eye out for a hummingbird throughout the entire winter. A wintering hummingbird can show up any time from August into March. Wintering hummingbirds move around a lot during their stay with us. Sometimes they will stay for a day or two, then take off, and eventually show up later in another yard fifty miles away. Others remain in the same backyard until the end of winter.

As you might expect, even folks that have previously hosted wintering hummingbirds are not successful every year. For example, last year we did not see a single wintering hummingbird. However, this year we spotted one just before we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. The seemingly magical appearance of this bird made our holiday celebration a truly extra special event.

If you have never tried to attract a wintering hummingbird, why not try it this year. Chances are you will not be lucky enough to see one. However, if you do, you will be able to experience the rare opportunity of enjoying a hummingbird’s beauty during the bleakest days of the year.

THE SANDHILL CRANE MIGRATION CAN BE SEEN FROM YOUR BACKYARD

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Recently sandhill cranes have been flying through Georgia en route to their wintering grounds in south Georgia and Florida. If you are lucky, you may have the opportunity to hear and/or see these long-legged waders as the pass over your backyard.

Each fall thousands of sandhill cranes leave their nesting grounds in the northern United States and Canada and embark on a journey that will take them to the sunny South. The cranes sighted in the Peach State are known as greater sandhill cranes. They are members of what wildlife biologists call the Great Lakes population. These birds breed in a broad area that extends from the western Great Lakes, Wisconsin, and Minnesota to Illinois and Iowa.

Sandhill cranes migrate in flocks that often number three hundred or more birds. The flocks often fly in long, undulating V-shaped waves. At times groups of three to four individuals will trail the main flocks.

Sandhill cranes are often mistaken for Canada geese. However, if you happen to see large birds passing high overhead, there are a couple of clues that you can use to that will tell you whether they are sandhill cranes or Canada geese.

First of all, listen to the call made by the birds. If they are sandhills, the call will be unmusical and sound something like a rolling karoo, karoo, karoo. In comparison, the Canada goose makes are call that is best described as sounding something like ka-rank or kalunk. This call is much more musical than that voiced by the Sandhill crane. These calls can be heard at least two miles away.

Even if the birds are flying hundreds of feet above the ground, if you are looking at sandhill cranes, you should be able to see their long legs extending far beyond their tails. The legs of the Canada geese never trail behind their tails.

Most of the sandhill cranes that we see here in Georgia are heading to central Florida. There are, however, two major sandhill crane wintering grounds in the Peach State. These special places are located in the Okefenokee Swamp and around the Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area situated near Valdosta. In addition, some birds winter as far north as Cordele and Americus.

Although sandhill cranes travel both day and night, most fly during the daylight hours. In fact, I had never seen or heard sandhills flying at night until last week. One night, during the time that the super moon was bathing the countryside in its pale, cool light, I heard sandhills passing overhead as I was walking the family dog around the yard. As soon as I heard their calling, I immediately dashed into the house to tell my wife what I had heard. Fortunately, she was able to scamper outside to listen the calls pierce the night air too.

During the next few weeks, be on the look out for flocks of these tall, gray birds streaming over the state. You might see them as you are raking leaves in your backyard, or while you are walking across a parking lot. When you see their passing, you will know that Mother Nature is telling you that autumn will soon be giving way to winter.

 

THE BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER IS AN UNUSUAL WINTER VISITOR

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One of the most unusual winter visitors to Georgia backyards is the black-and-white warbler.

Although the vast majority of black-and-white warblers winter in Florida southward throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America to Peru and Venezuela, small numbers of this distinctively marked warbler winter in Georgia. In the Peach State, during the winter months the bird is considered rare to uncommon below the Fall line, with more being seen along the coast and in extreme south Georgia than elsewhere. North of the Fall Line, the black-and-white warbler is deemed accidental to rare in winter.

Do not look for this bird at your feeders. In spite of the fact that it will sometimes visit hummingbird feeders, more than likely, if you are lucky enough to spot one, you will see it climbing up, down, and around the trunk or large limbs of a deciduous tree. Here is uses its bill, which is longer than that of most other warblers, to pluck insects hiding in bark crevices.

This five and a quarter-inch warbler is easy to identify; it is the only zebra-striped warbler that you are likely to see during the winter months. Both the male and female have stripes running down the length of their heads, backs, and sides. The streaks on the female are more muted than those of the male.

The call of this warbler is often difficult to hear. It is best described as sounding something like weesee, weesee, weesee. Some have suggested that it sounds somewhat like a squeaking wheel.

BACKYARD SECRET—House Sparrows Took America by Storm.

House Sparrows

       House Sparrows

During the 1800s, several attempts were made to establish house sparrows in the United States. All of these efforts failed until the early 1850s when birds imported from Europe were released in Brooklyn, New York. For some reason, these particular birds prospered and soon gained a foothold in the New World. In fact, they did so well that, in only fifty years, house sparrows spread across the entire United States.

Interestingly, house sparrows were brought to our shores because people found them attractive and the widely held belief they would help control corn pests. Little did the well-meaning folks that released the birds realize house sparrows would compete for nest sites with bluebirds and other native birds that nest in cavities and nesting boxes. In fact, they proved to be such fierce competitors for nest sites; they eliminated bluebird populations in many parts of the country.

GRAY SQUIRRELS ARE NOT SOCIAL BUTTERFLIES

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Watching gray squirrels in your backyard can be fascinating, particularly when you understand a little about their behavior.  For example, if you watch squirrels for a while, you will notice that they are not social butterflies.  By that I mean, that they do not hang out in groups like wild turkeys and chickens.  Typically, about the only time they get together is during mating season, or when they are drawn together by an abundance of food such as a pecan tree full of nuts.

This lack of tolerance among gray squirrels can be seen around your bird feeders.  If you keep a close eye on squirrels as they conduct a raid on your feeders, you should notice when they converge on such a treasure trove of food, they rarely feed closer than four to four and a half feet from each other.

In addition, you might even be able to recognize that feeding squirrels have a pecking order.  Male squirrels typically dominate all other squirrels.  Adult males and females both dominate juveniles and squirrels that have moved in from other areas are at the bottom of the pecking order.