Archive | December 2016


male red bellied woodpecker

male red bellied woodpecker

Here are ten fascinating facts you may not have known about the red-bellied woodpecker:

►The male red-bellied woodpecker displays red on both its nape and crown.  In comparison, the female red-bellied woodpecker has red on its nape but not its crown.

►Don’t be concerned if you don’t see the red on a red-bellied woodpecker’s belly as it is difficult to spot in the field.  The red coloration found on the belly looks like nothing more than a light wash of red.

►In Georgia, red-bellied woodpeckers do not migrate and the males maintain their territory from spring through winter.

►While it is true that most male and female red-bellied woodpeckers excavate their nesting cavities, the male does most of the work.

►Most of the birds’ nesting cavities are excavated less than 50 feet from the ground in a dead tree; however, some nests are located as much as 120 feet high.

►In Georgia, this woodpecker may raise two to three broods a year.

►Male and female red-bellied woodpeckers share incubation duties although the male typically incubates the eggs at night as well as during periods throughout the day.

►Although red-belied woodpeckers primarily eat insects and other invertebrates, they have also been known to devour small birds, fish, frogs, and bird eggs.

►This common woodpecker has the reputation of eating more fruits and berries than other woodpeckers.  Many of the fruits and berries they consume are gleaned from the following plants: grape, apple, blackberry, pokeberry, strawberry, mulberry, cherry, dogwood, poison ivy, waxmyrtle, elderberry, blackgum, blueberry, and palmetto.

►At feeders, red-bellied woodpeckers are most fond of black oil sunflower seeds and suet; however, they will devour a variety of other food offerings including cheese, cracked pecans, and raisins.


Cornbread for the birds

Cornbread for the birds

We will probably never be sure where and when the practice of feeding wild birds originated.  However, there is evidence that this popular activity may have begun in Scandinavia.

       It seems that centuries ago it was a popular custom to feed birds at Christmas.  At Christmas time, folks would hang sheaves of oats or wheat laden with seeds atop a long pole.  Families erected this unusual bird feeder on Christmas Eve.  It is said that family competed with one another to see who could raise their sheaf the highest.

       Remarkably, this age-old custom has survived the passage of time; it even made its way to this country. In the United States, it is most often practiced in the upper Midwest in states such as Minnesota.  However, those that now celebrate the custom place sheaves of grain outside their windows instead atop of a tall pole.

       It is doubtful that we will ever see sheaves of grain suspended from a pole, or even hanging outside a window in Georgia.  However, feeding birds at this special time of year should be a custom we all practice–my wife and I do.  This Christmas, the birds frequenting our backyard will be offered a smorgasbord of delights including white millet, sugar water, peanuts, black oil sunflower seeds, suet, cornbread, and grape jelly.  Nearby, they can wash down their holiday meal with a drink of clean water from a birdbath.

       Will you be preparing a Christmas banquet for your backyard birds?  I hope so.



chipping-white-throated-sparrow at a feeding-table

For almost thirty years, the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology has been researching the subject of backyard bird feeding across the United States.  The research is based on the data annually collected by more than 20,000 volunteers participating in the laboratory’s Project FeederWatch.  During the 2015-2016 reporting period, some 164 Georgians took part in the survey.

The data collected by these citizen scientists provide us with a better understanding of a number of facets relating to bird feeding in the Peach State.  For example, it gives us some idea of the birds we are mostly likely to see at our backyard feeders.

Below you will find a list of the birds that showed up in the most backyards surveyed last year.  This list is based on the percentages of backyards visited at least once by a species. The bird that visited the most backyards was the northern cardinal (99%), The rounding out  the list are: Carolina chickadee (95%), tufted titmouse (95%), Carolina wren (93%), mourning dove (91%), house finch (88%), American goldfinch (85%), downy woodpecker (82%), red-bellied woodpecker (82%), blue jay (77%), eastern bluebird (71%), white-breasted nuthatch (71%), dark-eyed junco (70%), chipping sparrow (66%), eastern towhee (65%), brown thrasher (65%), pine warbler (65%), northern mockingbird (65%), brown-headed nuthatch (64%), American robin (63%), white-throated sparrow (60%), yellow rumped warbler (60%),  pine siskin (56%), song sparrow (55%), and American crow (50%).





It is true, the fruit and berries of the plant we love to hate are great fall and winter foods for a number of our favorite backyard birds including:  the eastern bluebird, gray catbird, Carolina chickadee, American crow, northern flicker, dark-eyed junco, eastern phoebe, sparrows (fox, white-crowned, and white-throated), brown thrasher, hermit thrush, tufted titmouse, cedar waxwing, woodpeckers (downy, hairy, pileated, and red-bellied), and Carolina wren.


   binoculars-4-feb-2016If you are looking for the perfect gift for a family member or friend that enjoys watching backyard wildlife, I can think of no better Christmas gift for them than a pair of binoculars.  Here are a few tips that will help you select a pair that will add immeasurably to their enjoyment of the butterflies, birds, mammals and other wildlife that inhabit their backyard.

        If they have never used a pair of quality binoculars, they are in for a real treat.  The crisp, clear images seen through a pair of binoculars that are matched to their personal needs are so superior they will be astounded.

        Selecting a pair of superior binoculars is not as difficult as it may seem.  Once you know what to look for, it is as easy as starting a lawn mower.

        When buying a pair of binoculars here are the features you need to keep in mind: cost, eye relief, field-of-view, brightness, weight, size, and focusing distance.

        One of the first things you will notice when you pick up a pair of binoculars is two numbers such as 8.5×50.  The first number indicates the magnification or power.  The second number refers to the size of the objective lenses.  The objective lenses are the two large lenses found at the front of the binoculars.  These lenses are measured in millimeters.  All things being equal, the larger the objective lens, the more light passes into the binoculars.  This is especially important when trying to view wildlife in subdued light.

        Some of the more common powers that you will find are 7.5, 8, and 10.  Keep in mind the higher the magnification the harder it is to hold the binoculars steady.  If the person you are buying the binoculars for does not have a steady hand, stay away from 10 power binoculars.

        Field-of-view (FOV) simply refers to how large an area you can see at 1,000 yards. For backyard wildlife viewing, binoculars with a narrower field of view are usually best.

        One of the most frequently overlooked properties of a pair of binoculars is eye relief.  Eye relief refers to the distance between the eyepiece and your cornea when you are looking through the pair of binoculars.  If your gift recipient wears glasses, buy a pair that has an eye relief of at least 15.  The higher the number, more eye relief is provided.  Consequently, binoculars with an eye relief of 22 offers more eye relief than a pair with 15.

        If person that will be using the binoculars likes to look at birds or butterflies through a pair of binoculars without an eye relief of at least 15, he or she will be constantly removing their glasses to get the best view.

        The key factor in determining the brightness of a pair of binoculars is the diameter of the exit pupil.  You can determine the relative brightness of a pair of binoculars by dividing the size of the objective lens by the power.  For example, if you are computing the brightness of a pair of 10×50 binoculars, when 50 is divided by 10 you end up with an exit pupil of 5mm.  All things being equal, binoculars with the largest exit pupils are bright than those with smaller exit pupils.

        Remember though, when the exit pupil exceeds the diameter of your eye pupil; there is no advantage in purchasing an instrument with a larger exit pupil.  You should also be aware that when most of us reach the age of 40, buying a pair of binoculars with an exit pupil above 5mm is simply a waste of money.

        I would also recommend that you purchase a closing focusing binocular.  This will enable you to look to focus on butterflies and other critters six feet or less away.  Some binoculars allow you to focus at objects only 4.5 feet away.  This is a must, especially if somebody wants to enjoy looking at all kinds of wildlife.

        Keep in mind, if you buy them a pair of close focusing binoculars, they will be able to look at butterflies, anoles, chipmunks, and birds with the same instrument.

        Binoculars with the finest optics range in price anywhere from $300 to $1,000 or more.  Many of these instruments come with lifetime warrantees.  However, if you do not want to spend that much money, good quality binoculars can be purchased for far less.  Shop around, go to a birding supply store or other establishments that deals in optics and look at several pairs; compare their size and weight.  If the clerk is knowledgeable, she or he can help you select just the right pair for your friend or relative.  You can also go online and see what is available.  Companies that deal in a number of brands will often give you unbiased evaluations of what are the best choices in your price range.  One such company is Eagle Optics.

        Wherever you buy a pair of binoculars, make sure that you can return them if they do not fit the needs of your relative or friend.  I know of some companies will you to do for 30 days.

        Once the person receiving your gift begins using a pair of quality binoculars, a whole new world will open up to them.  No longer will all butterflies appear the same.  They will be able to distinguish an American lady from a painted lady and an eastern phoebe from a titmouse.  They will begin spotting the tiny, colorful warblers that feed atop their oak trees in the springtime.

        Indeed, in short order, they will find their binoculars as indispensable as the nesting boxes, plants, water, cover, and feeders that attract wildlife to their backyard.  Your gift will truly keep on giving years to come.




Chances are you do not have a yellow-bellied sapsucker feeder in your yard.  In fact, you probably did not even realize there was such a thing.  It is also true, that more than likely you are probably surprised to learn sapsuckers even use feeders.

If you go to the store where you normally buy your seed and feeders and ask if they carry sapsucker feeders, don’t be surprised if you are told that they too have never heard of it.  That being the case, if you want one, you will have to make it yourself.

My wife, Donna, fashioned our first yellow-bellied sapsucker feeder out of a disposable plastic container that held individual packets of breakfast drink mix (see the photo accompanying this article).  One feature that you cannot see in the photo are one-quarter-inch drainage holes poked in the bottom of the feeder.

I attached the feeder to a the limb of a nearby redbud tree using stovepipe wire. Once the feeder was in place, I filled the feeder with grape jelly. As you can see from the photo, if there are any yellow-bellied sapsuckers in your neighborhood, there is a good chance it will dine at your homemade feeder.

       Although the yellow-bellied sapsucker is a common winter resident throughout the state, it rarely comes to backyard feeders.  On those rare occasions when sapsuckers make a foray into a bird feeding area, the birds seem to prefer dining on hummingbird nectar, doughnuts and suet.  However, nothing seems to attract them more often than a feeder containing grape jelly hung on the limb of a tree.

I hope you will give the yellow-bellied sapsucker feeder a try. If you are successful in attracting this unusual woodpecker to a feeder, you will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a bird that is usually only seen from afar.


Here is a list of ten things that you may not have known about the northern cardinal:male-northern-cardinal

  • In Georgia, the cardinal’s nesting season runs from early March through early July. During this time, a female may raise three broods.
  • Unlike many songbirds, both male and female cardinals are accomplished songsters.
  • Although we may think of the cardinal as being a bird of the South, during the past century this colorful songster has expanded its range over much of the eastern United States and Canada.
  • Cardinals typically live in territories ranging anywhere from three to ten acres in size.
  • The fastest speed ever recorded for the northern cardinal is 28 mph.
  • Cardinals can live at least thirteen years in the wild.
  • The oldest known captive cardinal lived to be twenty-eight and half years old when it died.
  • The northern cardinal is the official state bird of seven states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia).
  • Early colonists once trapped and shipped thousands of northern cardinals back to Europe where they were subsequently sold as Virginia nightingales.
  • At one time Cardinals were slaughtered for their feathers, which were used to adorn women’s hats.